The cellular priori protein (PrP(C)) is a glycolipid-anchored protein that is involved in the pathogenesis of fatal spongiform encephalopathies. We have shown previously that, in contrast to several other glycolipid-anchored proteins, chPrP, the chicken homologue of mammalian PrP(C), is endocytosed via clathrin-coated pits in cultured neuroblastoma cells, as well as in embryonic neurons and glia (Shyng, S.-L., Heuser, J. E., and Harris, D. A. (1994) J. Cell Biol. 125, 1239-1250). In this study, we have determined that the N-terminal half of the chPrP polypeptide chain is essential for its endocytosis. Deletions within this region reduce the amount of chPrP internalized, as measured by surface iodination or biotinylation, and decrease its concentration in clathrin-coated pits, as determined by quantitative electron microscopic immunogold labeling. Mouse PrP, as well as two mouse PrP/chPrP chimeras, are internalized as efficiently as chPrP, suggesting that conserved features of secondary and tertiary structure are involved in interaction with the endocytic machinery. Our results indicate that the ectodomain of a protein can contain endocytic targeting information, and they strongly support a model in which the polypeptide chain of PrP(C) binds to the extracellular domain of a transmembrane protein that contains a coated pit localization signal in its cytoplasmic tail.