Populations of coated vesicles purified from bovine brain (BCV) and from rat liver (LCV) have been characterized with respect to the parameters of mass and diameter by analysis of scanning transmission electron micrographs of unstained specimens. Coated vesicles from both sources are heterogeneous, particularly in their masses. The respective distributions, compiled from mass measurements of many individual particles, are complex and markedly different. BCV range from 20 Mdaltons to approximately 100 Mdaltons with a weighted average of 35 Mdaltons: most BCV (80%) lie between 20 and 40 Mdaltons, including peaks at approximately 26 Mdaltons and at approximately 34 Mdaltons. In contrast, LCV masses tend to be substantially higher, ranging from 20 to 220 Mdaltons with a weighted average of 66 Mdaltons. There is a prominent subpopulation at approximately 35 Mdaltons, and 59% of all LCV belong to a broad peak between 50 and 120 Mdaltons. The Kolmogorov-Smirnov distribution-free test was used to affirm the statistical reproducibility of these isolates. BCV diameters vary from 50 to 90 nm, and those of LCV from 50 to 150 nm. Both protein compositions, determined by SDS PAGE, are dominated by clathrin and they are generally similar, except that corresponding secondary bands, notably the clathrin-associated light chains, appear to have lower molecular weights in the case of LCV. From consideration of the joint mass-diameter distribution, it is apparent that coated vesicles of a given diameter vary considerably in mass and that this variation is due primarily to widely differing amounts of material enclosed within the clathrin coat.

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