Incubation of alveolar macrophages in hypoosmotic K(+)-containing buffers results in persistent cell swelling and an inability to undergo regulatory volume decrease. We demonstrate that cells incubated in hypo-K+ show an inhibition of endocytosis without any observed alteration in recycling. The inhibition of endocytosis affected all forms of membrane internalization, receptor and fluid phase. Both increased cell volume and the inhibition of endocytosis could be released upon return of cells to iso-Na+ buffers. The ability to synchronize the endocytic apparatus allowed us to examine hypotheses regarding the origin and maturation of endocytic vesicles. Incubation in hypo-K+ buffers had no effect on the delivery of ligands to degradative compartments or on the return of previously internalized receptors to the cell surface. Thus, membrane recycling and movement of internalized components to lysosomes occurred in the absence of continued membrane influx. We also demonstrate that fluorescent lipids, that had been incorporated into early endosomes, returned to the cell surface upon exposure of cells to hypo-K+ buffers. These results indicate that the early sorting endosome is a transient structure, whose existence depends upon continued membrane internalization. Our data supports the hypothesis that the transfer of material to lysosomes can best be explained by the continuous maturation of endosomes.

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