Barbara Pearse is a cell biologist who pioneered our knowledge of coated vesicles, which are structures found inside most eukaryotic cells. These vesicles arise when a coated pit on a cell membrane buds into the cytoplasm; for coated pits on the cell surface, the vesicles bring nutrients and hormones into the cell. Barbara purified coated vesicles from the brain and human placenta, discovering they are encased in a large protein that she named ‘clathrin’.
The work of others showed that the cargo in coated pits is highly selected. Barbara discovered additional proteins associated with the clathrin coat that provide this selectivity. The large clathrin molecule can be dissociated from coated vesicles to yield a trimer triskelion. Reassembling clathrin together with the associated proteins has enabled Barbara and colleagues to unravel how triskelia and the associated proteins form a lattice-like structure on the vesicle surface. For this work, Barbara was awarded the EMBO Gold Medal in 1987.