Vasopressin (VP) increases the water permeability of the toad urinary bladder epithelium by inducing the cycling of vesicles containing water channels to and from the apical membrane of granular cells. In this study, we have measured several functional characteristics of the endosomal vesicles that participate in this biological response to hormonal stimulation. The water, proton, and urea permeabilities of endosomes labeled in the intact bladder with fluorescent fluid-phase markers were measured. The diameter of isolated endosomes labeled with horse-radish peroxidase was 90-120 nm. Osmotic water permeability (Pf) was measured by a stopped-flow fluorescence quenching assay (Shi, L.-B., and A. S. Verkman. 1989. J. Gen. Physiol. 94:1101-1115). The number of endosomes formed when bladders were labeled in the absence of a transepithelial osmotic gradient increased with serosal [VP] (0-50 mU/ml), and endosome Pf was very high and constant (0.08-0.10 cm/s, 18 degrees C). When bladders were labeled in the presence of serosal-to-mucosal osmotic gradient, the number of functional water channels per endosome decreased (at [VP] = 0.5 mU/ml, Pf = 0.09 cm/s, 0 osmotic gradient; Pf = 0.02 cm/s, 180 mosmol gradient). Passive proton permeability was measured from the rate of pH decrease in voltage-clamped endosomes in response to a 1 pH unit gradient (pHin = 7.5, pHout = 6.5). The proton permeability coefficient (PH) was 0.051 cm/s at 18 degrees C in endosomes containing the VP-sensitive water channel; PH was not different from that measured in vesicles not containing water channels. Measurement of urea transport by the fluorescence quenching assay gave a urea reflection coefficient of 0.97 and a permeability coefficient of less than 10(-6) cm/s. These results demonstrate: (a) VP-induced endosomes from toad urinary bladder have extremely high Pf. (b) In states of submaximal bladder Pf, the density of functional water channels in endosomes in constant in the absence of an osmotic gradient, but decreases in the presence of a serosal-to-mucosal gradient, suggesting that the gradient has a direct effect on the efficiency of packaging of water channels into endosomes. (c) The VP-sensitive water channel does not have a high proton permeability. (d) Endosomes that cycle the water channel do not contain urea transporters. These results establish a labeling procedure in which greater than 85% of labeled vesicles from toad urinary bladder are endosomes that contain the VP-sensitive water channel in a functional form.

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