Ligand–receptor complexes formed at the plasma membrane are internalised via various endocytic pathways that influence the ultimate signalling output by regulating the selection of interaction partners by the complex along the trafficking route. We report that, in differentiated cells, activin A–receptor complexes are internalised via clathrin-mediated endocytosis (CME) and macropinocytosis (MP), whereas in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) internalisation occurs via CME. We further show that hESCs are devoid of MP, which becomes functional upon differentiation towards endothelial cells through mesoderm mediators. Our results reveal, for the first time, that MP is an internalisation route for activin A in differentiated cells, and that MP is not active in hESCs and is induced as cells differentiate.

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