Immunocytochemical visualization of coated pits and vesicles in human fibroblasts: Relation to low density lipoprotein receptor distribution

Richard G W Anderson, Eliza Vasile, Robert J. Mello, Michael S. Brown, Joseph L. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


The coated pit-coated vesicle system has a key role in the uptake of plasma low density lipoprotein (LDL) and other receptor-bound proteins in human fibroblasts. To study the distribution of coated pits and coated vesicles in fibroblasts by immunochemical techniques at both the light and electron microscopic levels, we immunized rabbits with coat protein extracted from bovine brain-coated vesicles. The resulting anti-coat protein antibody was directed predominantly against clathrin, the 180,000 dalton protein that constitutes the major component of coat protein. By indirect immunoperoxidase electron microscopy, the anti-coat protein antibody was observed to bind specifically to coated pits on the surface of human fibroblasts and to coated vesicles within the cell. Indirect immunofluorescence and immunoperoxidase staining techniques at the light microscopic level revealed that the coat protein was distributed in fibroblasts in two distinctive patterns: as discrete foci on or near the cell surface that were linearly aligned in association with phase-dense cellular fibers (first pattern), and as intracellular foci that were randomly arranged around the cell nucleus (second pattern). The distribution of coat protein in fibroblasts was compared with the distribution of ferritin-labeled LDL, which was studied with the use of similar electron microscopic and immunofluorescence techniques. As previously reported, electron microscopic studies revealed that the LDL-ferritin binding sites at 4°C were clustered in coated pits. By immunofluorescence microscopy, the LDL-ferritin that was bound to receptors with coated pits was shown to be arranged linearly over the cell surface in a pattern that was similar to the linear arrangement of coat protein (first pattern). Considered together, the current data indicate that coated pits in human fibroblasts contain a protein analogous to clathrin, and that those coated pits which contain receptors for LDL are located over intracellular fibers most likely corresponding to stress fibers. These observations may have relevance to the mechanisms by which the coated pit-coated vesicle system efficiently delivers receptor-bound ligands to lysosomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)919-933
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1978

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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