A fibroblast mutant cell line lacking the Na+/H+ antiporter was used to study the influence of low cytoplasmic pH on membrane transport in the endocytic and exocytic pathways. After being loaded with protons, the mutant cells were acidified at pH 6.2 to 6.8 for 20 min while the parent cells regulated their pH within 1 min. Cytoplasmic acidification did not affect the level of intracellular ATP or the number of clathrin-coated pits at the cell surface. However, cytosolic acidification below pH 6.8 blocked the uptake of two fluid phase markers, Lucifer Yellow and horseradish peroxidase, as well as the internalization and the recycling of transferrin. When the cytoplasmic pH was reversed to physiological values, both fluid phase endocytosis and receptor-mediated endocytosis resumed with identical kinetics. Low cytoplasmic pH also inhibited the rate of intracellular transport from the Golgi complex to the plasma membrane. This was shown in cells infected by the temperature-sensitive mutant ts 045 of the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) using as a marker of transport the mutated viral membrane glycoprotein (VSV-G protein). The VSV-G protein was accumulated in the trans-Golgi network (TGN) by an incubation at 19.5 degrees C and was transported to the cell surface upon shifting the temperature to 31 degrees C. This transport was arrested in acidified cells maintained at low cytosolic pH and resumed during the recovery phase of the cytosolic pH. Electron microscopy performed on epon and cryo-sections of mutant cells acidified below pH 6.8 showed that the VSV-G protein was present in the TGN. These results indicate that acidification of the cytosol to a pH less than 6.8 inhibits reversibly membrane transport in both endocytic and exocytic pathways. In all likelihood, the clathrin and nonclathrin coated vesicles that are involved in endo- and exocytosis cannot pinch off from the cell surface or from the TGN below this critical value of internal pH.

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