Yolk platelets constitute an embryonic endocytic compartment that stores maternally synthesized nutrients. The pH of Xenopus yolk platelets, measured by photometry on whole oocytes which had endocytosed FITC-vitellogenin, was found to be acidic (around pH 5.6). Experiments on digitonin-permeabilized oocytes showed that acidification was due to the activity of an NEM- and bafilomycin A1-sensitive vacuolar proton-ATPase. Proton pumping required chloride, but was not influenced by potassium or sodium. Passive proton leakage was slow, probably due to the buffer capacity of the yolk, and was dependent on the presence of cytoplasmic monovalent cations. In particular, sodium could drive proton efflux through an amiloride-sensitive Na+/H+ exchanger. 8-Bromo-cyclic-AMP was found to increase acidification, suggesting that pH can be regulated by intracellular second messengers. The moderately acidic pH does not promote degradation of the yolk platelets, which in oocytes are stable for weeks, but it is likely to be required to maintain the integrity of these organelles. Furthermore, the pH gradient created by the proton pump, when coupled with the Na+/H+ exchanger, is probably responsible for the accumulation and storage of sodium into the yolk platelets during oogenesis.

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