Extracellular macromolecules, pathogens and cell surface proteins rely on endocytosis to enter cells. Key steps of endocytic carrier formation are cargo molecule selection, plasma membrane folding and detachment from the cell surface. While dedicated proteins mediate each step, the actin cytoskeleton contributes to all. However, its role can be indirect to the actual molecular events driving endocytosis. Here, we review our understanding of the molecular steps mediating local actin polymerization during the formation of endocytic carriers. Clathrin-mediated endocytosis is the least reliant on local actin polymerization, as it is only engaged to counter forces induced by membrane tension or cytoplasmic pressure. Two opposite situations are coated pit formation in yeast and at the basolateral surface of polarized mammalian cells which are, respectively, dependent and independent on actin polymerization. Conversely, clathrin-independent endocytosis forming both nanometer [CLIC (clathrin-independent carriers)/GEEC (glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored protein enriched endocytic compartments), caveolae, FEME (fast endophilin-mediated endocytosis) and IL-2β (interleukin-2β) uptake] and micrometer carriers (macropinocytosis) are dependent on actin polymerization to power local membrane deformation and carrier budding. A variety of endocytic adaptors can recruit and activate the Cdc42/N-WASP or Rac1/WAVE complexes, which, in turn, engage the Arp2/3 complex, thereby mediating local actin polymerization at the membrane. However, the molecular steps for RhoA and formin-mediated actin bundling during endocytic pit formation remain unclear.

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