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PLoS Comput Biol. 2010 Sep 9;6(9). pii: e1000926. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000926.

Minimal mesoscale model for protein-mediated vesiculation in clathrin-dependent endocytosis.

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Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.


In eukaryotic cells, the internalization of extracellular cargo via the endocytic machinery is an important regulatory process required for many essential cellular functions. The role of cooperative protein-protein and protein-membrane interactions in the ubiquitous endocytic pathway in mammalian cells, namely the clathrin-dependent endocytosis, remains unresolved. We employ the Helfrich membrane Hamiltonian together with surface evolution methodology to address how the shapes and energetics of vesicular-bud formation in a planar membrane are stabilized by presence of the clathrin-coat assembly. Our results identify a unique dual role for the tubulating protein epsin: multiple epsins localized spatially and orientationally collectively play the role of a curvature inducing capsid; in addition, epsin serves the role of an adapter in binding the clathrin coat to the membrane. Our results also suggest an important role for the clathrin lattice, namely in the spatial- and orientational-templating of epsins. We suggest that there exists a critical size of the coat above which a vesicular bud with a constricted neck resembling a mature vesicle is stabilized. Based on the observed strong dependence of the vesicle diameter on the bending rigidity, we suggest that the variability in bending stiffness due to variations in membrane composition with cell type can explain the experimentally observed variability on the size of clathrin-coated vesicles, which typically range 50-100 nm. Our model also provides estimates for the number of epsins involved in stabilizing a coated vesicle, and without any direct fitting reproduces the experimentally observed shapes of vesicular intermediates as well as their probability distributions quantitatively, in wildtype as well as CLAP IgG injected neuronal cell experiments. We have presented a minimal mesoscale model which quantitatively explains several experimental observations on the process of vesicle nucleation induced by the clathrin-coated assembly prior to vesicle scission in clathrin dependent endocytosis.

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