Niemann-Pick C disease (NP-C) is a neurovisceral lysosomal storage disorder. A variety of studies have highlighted defective sterol trafficking from lysosomes in NP-C cells. However, the heterogeneous nature of additional accumulating metabolites suggests that the cellular lesion may involve a more generalized block in retrograde lysosomal trafficking. Immunocytochemical studies in fibroblasts reveal that the NPC1 gene product resides in a novel set of lysosome-associated membrane protein-2 (LAMP2)(+)/mannose 6-phosphate receptor(-) vesicles that can be distinguished from cholesterol-enriched LAMP2(+) lysosomes. Drugs that block sterol transport out of lysosomes also redistribute NPC1 to cholesterol-laden lysosomes. Sterol relocation from lysosomes in cultured human fibroblasts can be blocked at 21 degrees C, consistent with vesicle-mediated transfer. These findings suggest that NPC1(+) vesicles may transiently interact with lysosomes to facilitate sterol relocation. Independent of defective sterol trafficking, NP-C fibroblasts are also deficient in vesicle-mediated clearance of endocytosed [14C]sucrose. Compartmental modeling of the observed [14C]sucrose clearance data targets the trafficking defect caused by mutations in NPC1 to an endocytic compartment proximal to lysosomes. Low density lipoprotein uptake by normal cells retards retrograde transport of [14C]sucrose through this same kinetic compartment, further suggesting that it may contain the sterol-sensing NPC1 protein. We conclude that a distinctive organelle containing NPC1 mediates retrograde lysosomal transport of endocytosed cargo that is not restricted to sterol.
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