The fundamental mechanisms by which receptors once targeted for endocytosis are found in coated pits is an important yet unresolved question. Specifically, are activated receptors simply trapped on encountering preexisting coated pits, subsequently being rapidly internalized? Or do the receptors themselves, by active recruitment, gather soluble coat and cytosolic components and initiate the rapid assembly of new coated pits that then mediate their internalization? To explore this question, we studied the relationship between activation of IgE-bound high affinity Fc receptors (FCepsilonRI) and coated pit formation. Because these receptors are rapidly internalized via clathrin-coated pits only when cross-linked by the binding of multivalent antigens, we were able to separate activation from internalization by using an immobilized antigen. The FCepsilonRIs, initially uniformly distributed over the cell surface. relocalized and aggregated on the antigen-exposed membrane. The process was specific for the antigen, and temperature- and time-dependent. This stimulation initiated a cascade of cellular responses typical of FCepsilonRI signaling including membrane ruffling, cytoskeletal rearrangements, and, in the presence of Ca2+, exocytosis. Despite these responses, no change in coated pit disposition or in the distribution of clathrin and assembly protein AP2 was detected, as monitored by immunoblotting and by quantitative (vertical sectioning) confocal microscopy analysis of immunofluorescently stained cells. Specifically, there was no decrease in the density of clathrin-coated pits in regions of the cell membrane not in contact with the antigen, and there was no apparent increase in clathrin-coated pits in proximity to stimulated FCepsilonRI receptors as would have been expected if the receptors were inducing formation of new pits by active recruitment. These results indicate that de novo formation of clathrin-coated pits is not a prerequisite for rapid internalization or a direct response to stimulation of FCepsilonRI receptors. Therefore, increases in coated pits reported to occur in response to activation of some signaling receptors must be consequences of the signal transduction processes, rather than strictly serving the purpose of the internalization of the receptors.

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