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The early endosome containing internalized molecules matures through transformations in its location, morphology, intraluminal pH, and membrane protein composition. Together, these changes result in a more acidic late endosome that contains multiple intraluminal vesicles; therefore, the late endosome is also called a multivesicular body (MVB).

Changes in location

The maturing endosome moves along microtubules from the periphery of the cell towards the perinuclear region. This movement of the endosome is mediated by dynein and kinesin motor proteins. Disruption of microtubules or inhibition of dynein leads to a delay in the maturation of endosomes or the dispersal of late endosomes.

Changes in intraluminal pH

The vacuolar domain of early endosomes contains V-type ATPases in its membrane. These enzymes pump protons from the cytosol into maturing endosomes. A lower intraluminal pH of the maturing endosome provides a better environment for the optimal functioning of the degradative enzymes in the maturing endosome and aids in efficient sorting of internalized molecules.

Changes in protein composition

Upon maturation, the late endosome is enriched with lysosomal hydrolases—proteins with degradative properties. Most of these hydrolases contain inhibitory domains that can inactivate their function. As the maturation progresses, these inhibitory domains are removed. Once the late endosome fuses with the lysosome, these hydrolases can degrade the endocytosed material. Additionally, the late endosome also acquires proteins called SNAREs, as well as some tethering proteins. SNAREs enable maturing endosomes to fuse with each other. Alternatively, they can later fuse with lysosomes and autophagosomes that are formed after phagocytosis.

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