Intracisternal granules (ICG) develop in the rough ER of hyperstimulated thyrotrophs or thyroid hormone-secreting cells of the anterior pituitary gland. To determine the fate of these granules, we carried out morphological and immunocytochemical studies on pituitaries of thyroxine-treated, thyroidectomized rats. Under these conditions the ER of thyrotrophs is dramatically dilated and contains abundant ICG; the latter contain beta subunits of thyrotrophic hormone (TSH-beta). Based on purely morphologic criteria, intermediates were identified that appeared to represent stages in the transformation of a part rough/part smooth ER cisterna into a lysosome. Using immunocytochemical and cytochemical markers, two major types of intermediates were distinguished: type 1 lacked ribosomes but were labeled with antibodies against both ER markers (PDI, KDEL, ER membrane proteins) and a lysosomal membrane marker, lgp120. They also were reactive for the lysosomal enzyme, acid phosphatase, by enzyme cytochemistry. Type 2 intermediates were weakly reactive for ER markers and contained both lgp120 and lysosomal enzymes (cathepsin D, acid phosphatase). Taken together these results suggest that in hyperstimulated thyrotrophs part rough/part smooth ER elements containing ICG lose their ribosomes, their membrane is modified, and they sequentially acquire a lysosome-type membrane and lysosomal enzymes. The findings are compatible with the conclusion that a pathway exists by which under certain conditions, secretory proteins present in the ER as well as ER membrane and content proteins can be degraded by direct conversion of ER cisternae into lysosomes.

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