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Multivesicular endosomes (MVEs) are complex intracellular organelles that function in endocytosis. A major function of the endocytic pathway is to sort internalized macromolecules and membrane proteins. Appropriately sorted proteins, such as epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor (EGFR), are incorporated into MVEs before transport to the lysosomal compartment, where degradation occurs. Thus, MVEs operate in the endosome-to-lysosome portion of the pathway. In yeast cells, where MVE formation has been extensively studied, the pathway terminates in the yeast vacuole, which is equivalent to the vertebrate lysosome. MVEs arise by invagination of the limiting membrane of an endosomal vesicle such that many small internal vesicles are formed, hence the term "multivesicular endosome." In part, the internalization and targeting of membrane proteins to the MVE involves ubiquitin, a small protein associated with protein degradation. In reticulocytes and certain antigen-presenting cells, MVEs are routed to the plasma membrane rather than the lysosome, releasing small vesicles called "exosomes" back into the extracellular space.
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