After synaptic vesicles fuse with the plasma membrane and release their contents, vesicle membrane proteins recycle by endocytosis and are targeted to newly formed synaptic vesicles. The membrane traffic of an epitope-tagged form of VAMP-2 (VAMP-TAg) was observed in transfected cells to identify sequence requirements for recycling of a synaptic vesicle membrane protein. In the neuroendocrine PC12 cell line VAMP-TAg is found not only in synaptic vesicles, but also in endosomes and on the plasma membrane. Endocytosis of VAMP-TAg is a rapid and saturable process. At high expression levels VAMP-TAg accumulates at the cell surface. Rapid endocytosis of VAMP-TAg also occurs in transfected CHO cells and is therefore independent of other synaptic proteins. The majority of the measured endocytosis is not directly into synaptic vesicles since mutations in VAMP-TAg that enhance synaptic vesicle targeting did not affect endocytosis. Nonetheless, mutations that inhibited synaptic vesicle targeting, in particular replacement of methionine-46 by alanine, inhibited endocytosis by 85% in PC12 cells and by 35% in CHO cells. These results demonstrate that the synaptic vesicle targeting signal is also used for endocytosis and can be recognized in cells lacking synaptic vesicles.

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