To complement studies that have demonstrated the prominent phosphorylation of a 50-kD coated vesicle polypeptide in vitro, we have evaluated the phosphorylation of coated membrane proteins in intact cells. A co-assembly assay has been devised in which extracts of cultured rat sympathetic neurons labeled with [32P]-Pi were combined with unlabeled carrier bovine brain coat proteins and reassembled coat structures were isolated by gradient centrifugation. Two groups of phosphorylated polypeptides, of 100-110 kD (pp100-110) and 155 kD (pp155) apparent molecular mass, were incorporated into reassembled coats. The neuronal pp100-110 are structurally and functionally related to the 100-110-kD component of the bovine brain assembly protein (AP), a protein complex that also contains 50-kD and 16.5-kD components and is characterized by its ability to promote the reassembly of clathrin coat structures under physiological conditions of pH and ionic strength (Zaremba, S. and J. H. Keen, 1983, J. Cell Biol., 97:1337-1348). The neuronal pp155 detected in reassembled coat structures was readily observable in total extracts of [32P]-Pi-labeled neurons dissolved in SDS-containing buffer. A bovine brain counterpart to the neuronal pp155 was also observed when brain coated vesicles were subjected to two-dimensional gel electrophoresis. Phosphoserine was the predominant phosphoaminoacid found in both the pp100 and pp155. A structural and functional counterpart to the 50-kD brain assembly polypeptide (AP50) was also identified in these neurons. Although the brain AP50 is prominently phosphorylated by an endogenous protein kinase in isolated coated vesicle preparations, the neuronal AP50 was not detectably phosphorylated in intact cells as assessed by two-dimensional non-equilibrium pH gradient gel electrophoresis of labeled cells dissolved directly in SDS-containing buffers. These results demonstrate that the bovine brain assembly polypeptides of 50 kD and 100-110 kD that we have previously described, as well as a novel 155-kD polypeptide reported here, have structural and functional counterparts in cultured neurons. They also indicate that phosphorylation of the 100-110-kD AP may be involved in the regulation of coated membrane structure and function. The extent of phosphorylation of the AP50 in intact cells and in isolated coated vesicles is strikingly different: it has been suggested that the latter process reflects an autophosphorylation reaction (Campbell C., J. Squicciarini, M. Shia, P. F. Pilch, and R. E. Fine, 1984, Biochemistry, 23:4420-4426).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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