An affinity matrix of LDL receptor cytoplasmic tails binds the HA-II 100/50/16 kd complexes found in plasma membrane coated pits. Other receptors (or their cytoplasmic domains), which are localized in coated pits during endocytosis, inhibit this binding. This includes an 8 residue peptide containing tyrosine, corresponding to the cytoplasmic portion of a mutant influenza haemagglutinin. In contrast, the equivalent peptide lacking tyrosine (like the tail of the native haemagglutinin, a protein excluded from coated pits) does not compete. These results imply that the HA-II complex has a recognition site for a common signal, probably involving a tyrosine residue, carried by the LDL receptor and competing receptors also found in plasma membrane coated pits. The HA-II complex therefore fulfils the role of an 'adaptor', the name proposed for the structural units which mediate the binding of clathrin to receptors in coated vesicles. Another related complex, the HA-I adaptor, which is restricted to Golgi coated pits, probably does not recognize the 'tyrosine signal' on the LDL receptor tail. The HA-I adaptor is likely to contain a recognition site for a different signal carried by receptors, e.g. the mannose-6-phosphate receptor, which are found in Golgi coated pits.