The effects of methods known to perturb endocytosis from clathrin-coated pits on the localization of clathrin and HA2 adaptors in HEp-2 carcinoma cells have been studied by immunofluorescence and ultrastructural immunogold microscopy, using internalization of transferrin as a functional assay. Potassium depletion, as well as incubation in hypertonic medium, remove membrane-associated clathrin lattices: flat clathrin lattices and coated pits from the plasma membrane, and clathrin-coated vesicles from the cytoplasm, as well as those budding from the TGN. In contrast, immunofluorescence microscopy using antibodies specific for the alpha- and beta-adaptins, respectively, and immunogold labeling of cryosections with anti-alpha-adaptin antibodies shows that under these conditions HA2 adaptors are aggregated at the plasma membrane to the same extent as in control cells. After reconstitution with isotonic K(+)-containing medium, adaptor aggregates and clathrin lattices colocalize at the plasma membrane as normally and internalization of transferrin resumes. Acidification of the cytosol affects neither clathrin nor HA2 adaptors as studied by immunofluorescence microscopy. However, quantitative ultrastructural observations reveal that acidification of the cytosol results in formation of heterogeneously sized and in average smaller clathrin-coated pits at the plasma membrane and buds on the TGN. Collectively, our observations indicate that the methods to perturb formation of clathrin-coated vesicles act by different mechanisms: acidification of the cytosol by affecting clathrin-coated membrane domains in a way that interferes with budding of clathrin-coated vesicles from the plasma membrane as well as from the TGN; potassium depletion and incubation in hypertonic medium by preventing clathrin and adaptors from interacting. Furthermore our observations show that adaptor aggregates can exist at the plasma membrane independent of clathrin lattices and raise the possibility that adaptor aggregates can form nucleation sites for clathrin lattices.

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