Macropinocytosis: Biology and mechanisms

Cells Dev. 2021 Dec;168:203713. doi: 10.1016/j.cdev.2021.203713. Epub 2021 Jun 24.


Macropinocytosis is a form of endocytosis performed by ruffles and cups of the plasma membrane. These close to entrap droplets of medium into micron-sized vesicles, which are trafficked through the endocytic system, their contents digested and useful products absorbed. Macropinocytosis is constitutive in certain immune cells and stimulated in many other cells by growth factors. It occurs across the animal kingdom and in amoebae, implying a deep evolutionary history. Its scientific history goes back 100 years, but increasingly work is focused on its medical importance in the immune system, cancer cell feeding, and as a backdoor into cells for viruses and drugs. Macropinocytosis is driven by the actin cytoskeleton whose dynamics can be appreciated with lattice light sheet microscopy: this reveals a surprising variety of routes for forming macropinosomes. In Dictyostelium amoebae, macropinocytic cups are organized around domains of PIP3 and active Ras and Rac in the plasma membrane. These attract activators of the Arp2/3 complex to their periphery, creating rings of actin polymerization that shape the cups. The size of PIP3 domains is controlled by RasGAPs, such as NF1, and the lipid phosphatase, PTEN. It is likely that domain dynamics determine the shape, evolution and closing of macropinocytic structures.

Keywords: Dictyostelium; Endocytosis; Macrophage; Macropinocytosis; PIP3.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Amoeba*
  • Animals
  • Biology
  • Dictyostelium* / metabolism
  • Endocytosis
  • Pinocytosis