A protein activity has been identified in extracts of coated vesicles that enables purified clathrin triskelions to reassemble in vitro into coat structures of uniform size. Coats formed in the presence of this preparation, regardless of the buffer system employed, are uniform in size with a mean diameter of 78 nm (+/- 5 nm SD) and a sedimentation coefficient (S20,w) of approximately 250S. Analysis of the reassembled coats on dodecyl sulfate acrylamide gels reveals that they have specifically incorporated three polypeptides from the preparation: those of Mr congruent to 52,000, 100,000, and 110,000. The 52,000-, 100,000-, and 110,000-mol-wt polypeptides are incorporated in molar ratios of 0.85, 1.11, and 0.26, respectively, per three clathrin monomers (equivalent to one triskelion). We therefore designate these as assembly polypeptides (AP). In contrast, coats formed from clathrin alone, under permissive buffer conditions, are larger (400S), more heterogeneous in size (101 nm +/- 15 nm SD), and are composed only of clathrin and its associated light chains. These biochemical and biophysical characteristics distinguish AP-reassembled coats from coats formed by triskelions alone. AP-reassembled coats can be isolated, dissociated, then reassembled in the absence of any other factors. This recycling indicates that all the information needed for reassembly is present in the coat-incorporated polypeptides themselves. Reassembly is stoichiometric and saturable with respect to both clathrin and AP concentration. In the presence of AP, significant coat reassembly occurs at clathrin concentrations as low as 0.06 mg/ml. AP-mediated reassembly proceeds at 4 degrees, 22 degrees, and 37 degrees C. Coat formation also proceeds efficiently at intracellular pH values (7.2-7.5) in the presence of AP. In its absence, reassembly does not occur at all above pH 6.7. In summary, AP promotes clathrin reassembly into coat structures of uniform size and distinctive composition under physiologically relevant salt, temperature, and pH conditions. In addition, the close similarity in size between AP-reassembled coats in vitro and coated membranes in the Golgi region in vivo raises the possibility that AP in the cell may be associated with this subpopulation of coat structures.

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