The different types of endocytosis

Endocytosis is a cellular process in which substances are brought into the cell. The material to be internalized is surrounded by an area of cell membrane, which then buds off inside the cell to form a vesicle containing the ingested materials. Endocytosis includes pinocytosis (cell drinking) and phagocytosis (cell eating). It is a form of active transport.


The term was proposed by De Duve in 1963.[1] Phagocytosis was discovered by Élie Metchnikoff in 1882.[2]


Schematic drawing illustrating clathrin-mediated (left) and clathrin-independent endocytosis (right) of synaptic vesicle membranes.

Endocytosis pathways can be subdivided into four categories: namely, receptor-mediated endocytosis (also known as clathrin-mediated endocytosis), caveolae, pinocytosis, and phagocytosis.[3]

Study[6] in mammalian cells confirm a reduction in clathrin coat size in an increased tension environment. In addition, it suggests that the two apparently distinct clathrin assembly modes, namely coated pits and coated plaques, observed in experimental investigations might be a consequence of varied tensions in the plasma membrane.

More recent experiments have suggested that these morphological descriptions of endocytic events may be inadequate, and a more appropriate method of classification may be based upon whether particular pathways are dependent on clathrin and dynamin.

Dynamin-dependent clathrin-independent pathways include FEME, UFE, ADBE, EGFR-NCE and IL2Rβ uptake.[10]

Dynamin-independent clathrin-independent pathways include the CLIC/GEEC pathway (regulated by Graf1),[11] as well as MEND and macropinocytosis.[10]

Clathrin-mediated endocytosis is the only pathway dependent on both clathrin and dynamin.

Principal components

The endocytic pathway of mammalian cells consists of distinct membrane compartments, which internalize molecules from the plasma membrane and recycle them back to the surface (as in early endosomes and recycling endosomes), or sort them to degradation (as in late endosomes and lysosomes). The principal components of the endocytic pathway are:[3]

It was recently found that an eisosome serves as a portal of endocytosis in yeast.[18]


The major route for endocytosis in most cells, and the best-understood, is that mediated by the molecule clathrin.[19][20] This large protein assists in the formation of a coated pit on the inner surface of the plasma membrane of the cell. This pit then buds into the cell to form a coated vesicle in the cytoplasm of the cell. In so doing, it brings into the cell not only a small area of the surface of the cell but also a small volume of fluid from outside the cell.[21][22][23]

Coats function to deform the donor membrane to produce a vesicle, and they also function in the selection of the vesicle cargo. Coat complexes that have been well characterized so far include coat protein-I (COP-I), COP-II, and clathrin.[24][25] Clathrin coats are involved in two crucial transport steps: (i) receptor-mediated and fluid-phase endocytosis from the plasma membrane to early endosome and (ii) transport from the TGN to endosomes. In endocytosis, the clathrin coat is assembled on the cytoplasmic face of the plasma membrane, forming pits that invaginate to pinch off (scission) and become free CCVs. In cultured cells, the assembly of a CCV takes ~ 1min, and several hundred to a thousand or more can form every minute.[26] The main scaffold component of clathrin coat is the 190-kD protein called clathrin heavy chain (CHC), which is associated with a 25- kD protein called clathrin light chain (CLC), forming three-legged trimers called triskelions.

Vesicles selectively concentrate and exclude certain proteins during formation and are not representative of the membrane as a whole. AP2 adaptors are multisubunit complexes that perform this function at the plasma membrane. The best-understood receptors that are found concentrated in coated vesicles of mammalian cells are the LDL receptor (which removes LDL from circulating blood), the transferrin receptor (which brings ferric ions bound by transferrin into the cell) and certain hormone receptors (such as that for EGF).

At any one moment, about 25% of the plasma membrane of a fibroblast is made up of coated pits. As a coated pit has a life of about a minute before it buds into the cell, a fibroblast takes up its surface by this route about once every 50 minutes. Coated vesicles formed from the plasma membrane have a diameter of about 100 nm and a lifetime measured in a few seconds. Once the coat has been shed, the remaining vesicle fuses with endosomes and proceeds down the endocytic pathway. The actual budding-in process, whereby a pit is converted to a vesicle, is carried out by clathrin; Assisted by a set of cytoplasmic proteins, which includes dynamin and adaptors such as adaptin.

Coated pits and vesicles were first seen in thin sections of tissue in the electron microscope by Thomas F Roth and Keith R. Porter.[27] The importance of them for the clearance of LDL from blood was discovered by Richard G. Anderson, Michael S. Brown and Joseph L. Goldstein in 1977.[28] Coated vesicles were first purified by Barbara Pearse, who discovered the clathrin coat molecule in 1976.[29]

Processes and components

Caveolin proteins like caveolin-1 (CAV1), caveolin-2 (CAV2), and caveolin-3 (CAV3), play significant roles in the caveolar formation process. More specifically, CAV1 and CAV2 are responsible for caveolae formation in non-muscle cells while CAV3 functions in muscle cells. The process starts with CAV1 being synthesized in the ER where it forms detergent-resistant oligomers. Then, these oligomers travel through the Golgi complex before arriving at the cell surface to aid in caveolar formation. Caveolae formation is also reversible through disassembly under certain conditions such as increased plasma membrane tension. These certain conditions then depend on the type of tissues that are expressing the caveolar function. For example, not all tissues that have caveolar proteins have a caveolar structure ie. the blood-brain barrier.[30] Though there are many morphological features conserved among caveolae, the functions of each CAV protein are diverse. One common feature among caveolins is their hydrophobic stretches of potential hairpin structures that are made of α-helices. The insertion of these hairpin-like α-helices forms a caveolae coat which leads to membrane curvature. In addition to insertion, caveolins are also capable of oligomerization which further plays a role in membrane curvature. Recent studies have also discovered that polymerase I, transcript release factor, and serum deprivation protein response also play a role in the assembly of caveolae. Besides caveolae assembly, researchers have also discovered that CAV1 proteins can also influence other endocytic pathways. When CAV1 binds to Cdc42, CAV1 inactivates it and regulates Cdc42 activity during membrane trafficking events.[31]


The process of cell uptake depends on the tilt and chirality of constituent molecules to induce membrane budding. Since such chiral and tilted lipid molecules are likely to be in a "raft" form, researchers suggest that caveolae formation also follows this mechanism since caveolae are also enriched in raft constituents. When caveolin proteins bind to the inner leaflet via cholesterol, the membrane starts to bend, leading to spontaneous curvature. This effect is due to the force distribution generated when the caveolin oligomer binds to the membrane. The force distribution then alters the tension of the membrane which leads to budding and eventually vesicle formation.[32]


See also


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Further reading