Image correlation spectroscopy and cross correlation spectroscopy were used to demonstrate that ~25% of the internalization-competent influenza virus hemagglutinin mutant, HA+8, is colocalized with clathrin and AP-2 at the plasma membrane of intact cells, while wild-type HA which is excluded from coated pits) does not colocalize with either protein. Clathrin and AP-2 clusters were saturated when HA+8 was overexpressed, and this was accompanied by a redistribution of AP-2 into existing coated pits. However, de novo coated pit formation was not observed. In nontreated cells, the number of clusters of clathrin or AP-2 colocalized with HA+8 was always comparable. Hypertonic treatment which disperses the clathrin lattices resulted in more clusters containing AP-2 and HA+8 than clathrin and HA+8. Less colocalization of HA+8 with clathrin was also observed after cytosol acidification which causes the formation of deeply invaginated pits, where the HA+8 may be inaccessible to extracellular labeling by antibodies, and blocks coated vesicle budding. However, cytosol acidification elevated the number of clusters containing both HA+8 and AP-2, suggesting an increase in their level of association outside of the deep invaginations. Our results imply that AP-2 and HA+8 can colocalize in cluster; devoid of clathrin, at least in cells treated to alter the clathrin lattice structure. Although we cannot ascertain whether this also occurs in untreated cells, we propose that AP-2 binding to membrane proteins carrying internalization signals can occur prior to the binding of AP-2 to clathrin. While such complexes can in principle serve to recruit clathrin for the formation of new coated pits, the higher affinity of the internalization signals for clathrin-associated AP-2 [Rapoport, I., et al. (1997) EMBO J. 16, 2240-2250] makes it more likely that once the AP-2- membrane protein complexes form, they are quickly recruited into existing coated pits.
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