We have examined, by analyzing thin (15-20 nm) serial sections, whether coated pits involved in adsorptive pinocytosis in cultured fibroblasts give rise to free coated vesicles or represent permanently surface-associated structures from the neck of which uncoated receptosomes pinch off and carry ligand into the cell. Human skin fibroblasts and mouse L-929 fibroblasts were incubated with cationized ferritin (CF), a ligand known to bind to coated pit regions, at 37 degrees C before fixation. In thin sections, CF was found in coated vesicular profiles within the cytoplasm. Serial sections revealed that whereas many of these coated profiles communicated with the cell surface, thus representing pits, about 10% in L-cells and 36% in skin fibroblasts were actually free coated vesicles. Moreover, evidence for uncoated vesicular structures (receptosomes) budding off from the coated pits was not obtained. We therefore conclude that coated pits do pinch off from the plasma membrane to form free, coated vesicles (pinosomes).

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