Using detailed functional studies on 24 human transferrin receptor mutants, we identified YXRF as the internalization sequence. Provided that at least 7 residues separate this tetrapeptide from the transmembrane region, changing the tetrapeptide position within the TR cytoplasmic domain does not reduce internalization activity. Thus, any conformational determinant for internalization must be localized to the YXRF sequence. Twenty-eight tetrapeptide analogs of YXRF, found by an unbiased search of all known three-dimensional protein structures, significantly favored tight turns similar to a type I turn. Of the ten tetrapeptides most closely related to YXRF, eight were surface exposed and had tight-turn conformations, as were four of five tetrapeptides with sequences related to the low density lipoprotein receptor internalization motif, NPXY. The internalization sequences of both receptors contain aromatic residues with intervening hydrogen-bonding residues. Thus, two distinct internalization sequences favor a common structural chemistry and implicate an exposed tight turn as the recognition motif for high efficiency endocytosis. © 1990.