Stochastic model of clathrin-coated pit assembly.
ABSTRACT In recent years, fluorescence microscopy has enabled researchers to observe the dynamics of clathrin-coated pit (CCP) assembly in real time. The assembly dynamics of CCPs shows striking heterogeneity. Some CCPs are long-lived (productive CCPs); they bind cargo and grow in size to form clathrin-coated vesicles. In contrast, other CCPs (abortive CCPs) are relatively short-lived and disassemble well before reaching vesicle size. Within both populations there is significant variance in CCP lifetime. We propose a stochastic biophysical model that links these observations with the energetics of CCPs and kinetics of their assembly. We show that without cargo, CCP assembly faces a high energy barrier that is difficult to overcome. As a consequence, CCPs without cargo are almost always abortive. We suggest a mechanism by which cargo binding stabilizes CCPs and facilitates their growth. The lifetime distribution of abortive pits calculated from our model agrees well with published experimental data. We also estimate the lifetimes of productive CCPs and show that the stochastic nature of CCP assembly plays a crucial role in causing their observed wide distribution.