Using polyclonal antibodies raised against clathrin, we have developed an enzyme-linked immunoassay that can specifically measure the quantity of clathrin in crude cell extracts. We found that the quantity (weight percent of total protein) of clathrin was similar in cell types that exhibit large differences in their levels of endocytosis and exocytosis (lymphoid cells, 0.11%; liver cells, 0.07%, fibroblasts, 0.18%; myeloma cells, 0.16%). However, the quantity of clathrin was found to be significantly higher in brain cortex (0.75%). Cellular clathrin was separated by high-speed centrifugation into two fractions: an unassembled form present in high-speed supernatants and an assembled form (clathrin coats) present in the pellets. We show that the fraction of clathrin in the unassembled state varies considerably depending on the cell type studied (14% in brain cortex to 70% in lymphocytes). Our data support the view that the amount of clathrin (relative to total cell protein) in eucaryotic cells is not related to the extent of receptor-mediated endocytosis and intracellular membrane traffic. However, the fraction of assembled clathrin seems to be higher in endocytically and/or exocytically active cells.

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