AP2 controls clathrin polymerization with a membrane-activated switch

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Science  25 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6195, pp. 459-463
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254836

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A membrane-activated switch to bind clathrin

Clathrin-mediated endocytosis—the process by which cells take up nutrients and signals within clathrin-coated vesicles—is very well understood. Kelly et al. reveal an unanticipated layer of regulation in this process. The proteins AP2 and clathrin are the major constituents of endocytic clathrin-coated vesicles. AP2 and clathrin stick together through a clathrin-binding motif in AP2. The authors now show that AP2's clathrin-binding motif is normally buried within the core of the AP2 protein. AP2 only ejects its clathrin-binding motif and recruits clathrin if it is associated with the correct cell membrane and an endocytic cargo.

Science, this issue p. 459


Clathrin-mediated endocytosis (CME) is vital for the internalization of most cell-surface proteins. In CME, plasma membrane–binding clathrin adaptors recruit and polymerize clathrin to form clathrin-coated pits into which cargo is sorted. Assembly polypeptide 2 (AP2) is the most abundant adaptor and is pivotal to CME. Here, we determined a structure of AP2 that includes the clathrin-binding β2 hinge and developed an AP2-dependent budding assay. Our findings suggest that an autoinhibitory mechanism prevents clathrin recruitment by cytosolic AP2. A large-scale conformational change driven by the plasma membrane phosphoinositide phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate and cargo relieves this autoinhibition, triggering clathrin recruitment and hence clathrin-coated bud formation. This molecular switching mechanism can couple AP2’s membrane recruitment to its key functions of cargo and clathrin binding.

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