Observation of the flow of material along the endocytic pathway has lead to the description of the basic architecture of the pathway and provided insight into the relationship between compartments. Significant advances have been made in the study of endocytic transport steps at the molecular level, of which studies of cargo selection, vesicle budding and membrane fusion events comprise the major part. Progress in this area has been driven by two approaches, yeast genetics and in vitro or cell-free assays, which reconstitute particular transport steps and allow biochemical manipulation. The complex protein machineries that control vesicle budding and fusion are significantly conserved between the secretory and endocytic pathways such that proteins that regulate particular steps are often part of a larger family of proteins which exercise a conserved function at other locations within the cell. Well characterized examples include vesicle coat proteins, rabs (small GTPases) and soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive fusion protein (NSF) attachment protein (SNAP) receptors (SNAREs). Intracompartmental pH, lipid composition and cytoskeletal organization have also been identified as important determinants of the orderly flow of material within the endocytic pathway.

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