Clathrin-mediated endocytosis (CME) robustness under elevated membrane tension is maintained by actin assembly-mediated force generation. However, whether more actin assembles at endocytic sites in response to increased load, as has been observed in lamellipodia, has not previously been investigated. Here actin network ultrastructure at CME sites was examined under low and high membrane tension. Actin and N-WASP spatial organization indicate that actin polymerization initiates at the base of clathrin-coated pits and that the network then grows away from the plasma membrane. Actin network height at individual CME sites was not coupled to coat shape, raising the possibility that local differences in mechanical load feedback on assembly. By manipulating membrane tension and Arp2/3 complex activity we tested the hypothesis that actin assembly at CME sites increases in response to elevated load. Indeed, in response to elevated membrane tension, actin grew higher, resulting in greater coverage of the clathrin coat, and CME slowed. When membrane tension was elevated and the Arp2/3 complex was inhibited, shallow clathrin-coated pits accumulated, indicating that this adaptive mechanism is especially crucial for coat curvature generation. We propose that actin assembly increases in response to increased load to ensure CME robustness over a range of plasma membrane tensions.

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