Initial steps in receptor-mediated endocytosis. The influence of temperature on the shape and distribution of plasma membrane clathrin-coated pits in cultured mammalian cells

Exp Cell Res. 1984 Jun;152(2):558-64. doi: 10.1016/0014-4827(84)90658-x.


We have examined the shape and distribution of clathrin-coated pits in Swiss 3T3 cells at 4 or 37 degrees C using electron microscopy with serial sections and immunofluorescence light microscopy. Both groups were fixed in glutaraldehyde and preserved further using a membrane contrast enhancement technique consisting of sequential osmium-ferrocyanide, thiocarbohydrazide and osmium-ferrocyanide treatment in situ. Concanavalin A-horseradish peroxidase (conA-HRP) was used to identify these structures participating in endocytosis. Two hundred twenty-two clathrin-coated structures were analysed; 126 from cells fixed at 4 degrees C, and 96 from cells fixed after a 3 min warm-up to 37 degrees C. All coated structures labeled with conA-HRP had demonstrable connections to the plasma membrane. These coated structures were morphologically classified into three categories: (a) flat pits; (b) curved pits; and (c) pits with narrow-neck connections to the plasma membrane. At 37 degrees C, 27% of coated pits had narrow neck connections to the plasma membrane whereas at 4 degrees C only 1% had such connections. Receptosomes (endosomes) labeled with conA-HRP were found only after incubation at 37 degrees C, indicating that active endocytosis was occurring in cells at 37 degrees C, but not at 4 degrees C. Immunofluorescence with anti-clathrin antibody was used to quantitate the number of clathrin-coated pits in Swiss 3T3 cells incubated at 4 and 37 degrees C prior to fixation. No difference was detected. There were 426 +/- 122 pits per cell at 37 degrees C and 441 +/- 106 at 4 degrees C. These results support the hypothesis that formation of a narrow neck connected a coated pit to the cell surface is an early step in the mechanism of receptor-mediated endocytosis.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Clathrin
  • Coated Pits, Cell-Membrane / ultrastructure*
  • Concanavalin A / pharmacology
  • Endocytosis*
  • Endosomes / ultrastructure*
  • Horseradish Peroxidase
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Temperature


  • Clathrin
  • Concanavalin A
  • Horseradish Peroxidase