The initial events during phagocytosis of latex beads by mouse peritoneal macrophages were visualized by high-resolution electron microscopy of platinum replicas of freeze-dried cells and by conventional thin-section electron microscopy of macrophages postfixed with 1% tannic acid. On the external surface of phagocytosing macrophages, all stages of particle uptake were seen, from early attachment to complete engulfment. Wherever the plasma membrane approached the bead surface, there was a 20-nm-wide gap bridged by narrow strands of material 12.4 nm in diameter. These strands were also seen in thin sections and in replicas of critical-point-dried and freeze-fractured macrophages. When cells were broken open and the plasma membrane was viewed from the inside, many nascent phagosomes had relatively smooth cytoplasmic surfaces with few associated cytoskeletal filaments. However, up to one-half of the phagosomes that were still close to the cell surface after a short phagocytic pulse (2-5 min) had large flat or spherical areas of clathrin basketwork on their membranes, and both smooth and clathrin-coated vesicles were seen fusing with or budding off from them. Clathrin-coated pits and vesicles were also abundant elsewhere on the plasma membranes of phagocytosing and control macrophages, but large flat clathrin patches similar to those on nascent phagosomes were observed only on the attached basal plasma membrane surfaces. These resulted suggest that phagocytosis shares features not only with cell attachment and spreading but also with receptor-mediated pinocytosis.

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