Previous studies have shown that when human fibroblasts are depleted of intracellular K+, coated pits disappear from the cell surface and the receptor-mediated endocytosis of low density lipoprotein (LDL) is inhibited. We have now used the K+ depletion protocol to study several aspects of coated pit function. First, since coated pits rapidly form when K+-depleted fibroblasts are incubated in the presence of 10 mM KCl, we studied the sequence of assembly of coated pits as visualized in carbon-platinum replicas of inner membrane surfaces from cells that had been incubated in the presence of K+ for various times. New coated pits initially appeared as planar clathrin lattices that increased in size by the formation of polygons at the margin of the lattice. Once the lattice reached a critical size it invaginated to form coated vesicles. Second, we determined that LDL-ferritin can induce clustering of LDL receptors over noncoated membrane on the surface of K+-depleted fibroblasts; however, when these cells are subsequently incubated in the presence of K+, these clusters become associated with newly formed coated pits and are internalized. Finally, we determined that K+ depletion inhibits the assembly of coated pits, but that existing coated pits in K+-depleted cells are able to internalize LDL. These results suggest that the clathrin lattice of coated pits is actively involved in membrane shape change during endocytosis and that the structural proteins of the lattice are cyclically assembled and disassembled in the process.

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