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endocytosis (ĕnˌdōsītōˈsəs), in biology, process by which substances are taken into the cell. When the cell membrane comes into contact with a suitable food, a portion of the cell cytoplasm surges forward to meet and surround the material and a depression forms within the cell wall. The depression deepens and the movement of the cytoplasm continues until the food is completely engulfed in a pocket called a vessicle. The vessicle then drifts further into the body of the cell where it meets and fuses with a lysosome, a vessicle normally found in the cell that contains digestive enzymes known as acid hydrolases. The food is then broken down into molecules and ions that are suitable for the cell's use. There are two types of endocytosis: pinocytosis, the engulfing and digestion of dissolved substances, and phagocytosis, the engulfing and digestion of microscopically visible particles. Phagocytosis is the process by which many protozoans obtain most of their food supply. It is also the process through which specialized cells in animals eliminate foreign matter, such as infecting microorganisms, as part of the body's defense system (see blood; immunity). The various phagocytic cells in higher animals are derived from relatively unspecialized cells called stem cells that are either fixed within a network of supporting (reticular) cells and fibers of the spleen, thymus, and bone marrow, or that wander freely throughout body tissues. Many phagocytic cells respond chemically to substances produced by foreign bodies or by degenerating tissue by moving toward the substances, a mechanism known as chemotaxis. When a particle of the proper charge or chemical composition adheres to the cell surface, the cell cytoplasm moves so that it finally surrounds the particle and traps it within a cytoplasmic vacuole. Various enzymes are then secreted into the vacuole to digest the foreign substance. In higher animals each phagocyte can ingest about 5 to 25 invading bacterial cells. Phagocytosis often precedes production of antibodies by the body, but some species of bacteria cannot be phagocytized unless specific antibody is already present. Although phagocytosis is an effective response to infection, some organisms, such as the bacteria causing brucellosis and tuberculosis, can survive for years within the descendant cells of the phagocytes that ingested them. The process of phagocytosis was first described in the late 19th cent. by the Russian zoologist Élie Metchnikoff.
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The process by which animal cells internalize particulate material (such as cellular debris and microorganisms), macromolecules (such as proteins and complex sugars), and low-molecular-weight molecules (such as vitamins and simple sugars). Cells engage in at least three different types of endocytosis: phagocytosis where cells engulf particulate material, receptor-mediated-endocytosis of macromolecules, and potocytosis of small molecules.

Some of the essential nutrients that a cell needs are scarce in the environment. The cells overcome this problem by expressing high-affinity receptors, or binding sites, on the membrane surface. Each type of receptor is specific for either macromolecules or molecules. These endocytic receptors are capable of concentrating their ligand at the cell surface before carrying it into the cell, thus increasing the efficiency of uptake.

In all three endocytic pathways the internalization step begins with the invagination of plasma membrane and the conversion of this membrane into a closed vesicle called an endosome. Each of the pathways has its own set of molecules that control internalization. These molecules assemble at the cell surface and physically deform the membrane into the shape of a vesicle. The vesicle, the endosome, then detaches and migrates to other locations within the cell. The same cell-surface assemblage of molecules also attracts endocytic receptors that are moving around on the cell surface, causing them to cluster over the site of internalization. Receptor clustering, which is essential for efficient uptake, is sometimes stimulated by ligand binding.

Endosomes that are generated by the phagocytic and receptor-mediated endocytic pathways often fuse with lysosomes that contain many different hydrolytic enzymes. Small molecules, by contrast, do not need further processing, so during potocytosis they are delivered directly to the cytoplasm. See Cell membranes, Lysosome


Phagocytosis is a receptor-mediated process where the receptors function as adhesive elements that bond the plasma membrane to the particle. The adhesive interaction of the phagocytic receptors with the membrane stimulates invagination. A critical molecule in this activity is actin, the same protein that provides power for muscle contraction. Surface membranes contain actin-binding proteins that link the phagocytic receptor to the actin cytoskeleton of the cell. Thus, when a particle binds to its endocytic receptor, a signal cascade is initiated that stimulates the recruitment of actin filaments to the site of phagocytosis. See Cytoskeleton, Phagocytosis, Signal transduction

Receptor-mediated endocytosis

The clathrin-coated pit is a segment of cell membrane that is specialized for receptor-mediated endocytosis. Each pit can be recognized by the presence of a polygonal lattice on the cytoplasmic surface of the membrane. This lattice shapes the plasma membrane into a coated vesicle that immediately uncoats and fuses with endosomes. The endosome functions as a switching area that directs membrane and content molecules to specific locations within the cell.


Potocytosis uses membrane proteins that are anchored by lipid rather than protein as endocytic receptors. The lipid anchor causes the attached proteins to migrate in the plane of the membrane and cluster in a membrane specialization called a caveola. Clustering ensures that any ligand bound to these receptors will be concentrated in this location. When caveolae close, they create a tiny compartment of uniform size that is sealed off from the extracellular space. When the ligand dissociates from its receptor, it reaches such a high concentration that it naturally flows through water-filled membrane channels into the cell.

The closed caveolar compartment appears to be a unique space for the cell. It is transient, does not merge with other organelles, and can selectively concentrate extracellular molecules or ions and deliver them to the cytoplasm. In addition to importing molecules, cells can also use this space to store and process incoming or outgoing messengers that affect cell behavior. See Cell (biology), Cell permeability

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


(cell and molecular biology)
An active process in which extracellular materials are introduced into the cytoplasm of cells by either phagocytosis or pinocytosis.
The process by which animal cells internalize large molecules and large collections of fluid.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
van Offenbeek et al., "The viral G protein-coupled receptor ORF74 Hijacks [beta]-arrestins for endocytic trafficking in response to human chemokines," PLoS One, vol.
EEA1 functions as a bridge that tethers early endosomes to incoming endocytic vesicles [153] and binds to syntaxin 13, a SNARE (soluble NSF-attachment protein receptor) protein required for membrane fusion [154].
Importantly, where endocytic mechanisms have been observed in a variety of cell types, the question of systemic distribution arises.
Endocytic membrane trafficking is controlled through several cytosolic regulatory mechanisms that dictate the number, composition, and fate of vesicles in their lumen (i.e., intraluminal vesicles, ILVs) and exosomes [44,45].
However, because ultrafine Ti[O.sub.2] aggregate very quickly in polar liquids such as cell culture medium and because particle concentration was fairly high, as seen from micrographs, it is very likely that particles aggregated within the cell culture medium and that cells engulfed these large clusters by an endocytic pathway.
Zurzolo, "Prion aggregates transfer through tunneling nanotubes in endocytic vesicles," Prion, vol.
While lipid antigens with short unsaturated alkyl chains localize in the endocytic recycling compartment, lipids with long saturated tails travel to the late endocytic compartments [13].
To further investigate the effect of ouabain on monocyte function, the endocytic capacity of monocytes was studied using dextran-FITC particles.
No mechanism has been proposed for this, but the different trafficking and storage of this lipid analog might reflect disturbed functions of the lipid flow in the degradative endocytic pathway.
In these in vitro studies, sporoplasms showed limited endocytic activity, a slight size increase with no clear evidence of cytokinesis after 32 h in incubation.
Exosomes are 30 to 100 nm extracellular membrane vesicles of endocytic origin, which are released into the extracellular environment upon fusion of multivesicular bodies with the plasma membrane.