Receptor-mediated endocytosis and intracellular trafficking of insulin and low-density lipoprotein by retinal vascular endothelial cells

Alan Stitt, Heather Anderson, T. A. Gardiner, J. R. Bailie, D. B. Archer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


PURPOSE: The authors investigated the receptor-mediated endocytosis (RME) and intracellular trafficking of insulin and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in cultured retinal vascular endothelial cells (RVECs). METHODS: Low-density lipoprotein and insulin were conjugated to 10 nm colloidal gold, and these ligands were added to cultured bovine RVECs for 20 minutes at 4 degrees C. The cultures were then warmed to 37 degrees C and fixed after incubation times between 30 seconds and 1 hour. Control cells were incubated with unconjugated gold colloid at times and concentrations similar to those of the ligands. Additional control cells were exposed to several concentrations of anti-insulin receptor antibody or a saturating solution of unconjugated insulin before incubation with gold insulin. RESULTS: Using transmission electron microscopy, insulin gold and LDL gold were both observed at various stages of RME. Insulin-gold particles were first seen to bind to the apical plasma membrane (PM) before clustering in clathrin-coated pits and internalization in coated vesicles. Gold was later visualized in uncoated cytoplasmic vesicles, corresponding to early endosomes and multivesicular bodies (MVBs) or late endosomes. In several instances, localized regions of the limiting membrane of the MVBs appeared coated, a feature of endosomal membranes not previously described. After RME at the apical PM and passage through the endosomal system, the greater part of both insulin- and LDL-gold conjugates was seen to accumulate in large lysosome-like compartments. However, a small but significant proportion of the internalized ligands was transcytosed and released as discrete membrane-associated quanta at the basal cell surface. The uptake of LDL gold was greatly increased in highly vacuolated, late-passage RVECs. In controls, anti-insulin receptor antibody and excess unconjugated insulin caused up to 89% inhibition in gold-insulin binding and internalization. CONCLUSION: These results illustrate the internalization and intracellular trafficking by RVECs of insulin and LDL through highly efficient RME, and they provide evidence for at least two possible fates for the endocytosed ligands. This study outlines a route by which vital macromolecules may cross the inner blood-retinal barrier.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3384-3392
Number of pages9
JournalInvestigative ophthalmology & visual science
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 1994

Bibliographical note

LR: 20111117; JID: 7703701; 0 (Gold Colloid); 0 (Insulin); 0 (Ligands); 0 (Lipoproteins, LDL); EC (Receptor, Insulin); ppublish


  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Cattle
  • Cell Membrane/metabolism/ultrastructure
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endocytosis
  • Endothelium, Vascular/cytology/metabolism/ultrastructure
  • Gold Colloid
  • Insulin/metabolism
  • Ligands
  • Lipoproteins, LDL/metabolism
  • Receptor, Insulin/metabolism
  • Retinal Vessels/cytology


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