Distinct dynamics of endocytic clathrin-coated pits and coated plaques

PLoS Biol. 2009 Sep;7(9):e1000191. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000191. Epub 2009 Sep 8.


Clathrin is the scaffold of a conserved molecular machinery that has evolved to capture membrane patches, which then pinch off to become traffic carriers. These carriers are the principal vehicles of receptor-mediated endocytosis and are the major route of traffic from plasma membrane to endosomes. We report here the use of in vivo imaging data, obtained from spinning disk confocal and total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy, to distinguish between two modes of endocytic clathrin coat formation, which we designate as "coated pits" and "coated plaques." Coated pits are small, rapidly forming structures that deform the underlying membrane by progressive recruitment of clathrin, adaptors, and other regulatory proteins. They ultimately close off and bud inward to form coated vesicles. Coated plaques are longer-lived structures with larger and less sharply curved coats; their clathrin lattices do not close off, but instead move inward from the cell surface shortly before membrane fission. Local remodeling of actin filaments is essential for the formation, inward movement, and dissolution of plaques, but it is not required for normal formation and budding of coated pits in the cells we have studied. We conclude that there are at least two distinct modes of clathrin coat formation at the plasma membrane--classical coated pits and coated plaques--and that these two assemblies interact quite differently with other intracellular structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 3T3 Cells
  • Actins / physiology
  • Animals
  • Auxilins / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Clathrin / metabolism*
  • Coated Pits, Cell-Membrane / physiology*
  • Coated Pits, Cell-Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Endocytosis / physiology*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Rats


  • Actins
  • Auxilins
  • Clathrin