Phase coexistence and connectivity in the apical membrane of polarized epithelial cells

Meder D, Moreno MJ, Verkade P, Vaz WL and Simons K
Source: Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
Publication Date: (2006)
Issue: 103(2): 329-334
Research Area:
Cancer Research/Cell Biology
Cells used in publication:
Species: canine
Tissue Origin: kidney
Nucleofector® I/II/2b
Although it is well described in model membranes, little is known about phase separation in biological membranes. Here, we provide evidence for a coexistence of at least two different lipid bilayer phases in the apical plasma membrane of epithelial cells. Phase connectivity was assessed by measuring long-range diffusion of several membrane proteins by fluorescence recovery after photobleaching in two polarized epithelial cell lines and one fibroblast cell line. In contrast to the fibroblast plasma membrane, in which all of the proteins diffused with similar characteristics, in the apical membrane of epithelial cells the proteins could be divided into two groups according to their diffusion characteristics. At room temperature ( approximately 25 degrees C), one group showed fast diffusion and complete recovery. The other diffused three to four times slower and, more importantly, displayed only partial recovery. Only the first group comprises proteins that are believed to be associated with lipid rafts. The partial recovery is not caused by topological constraints (microvilli, etc.), cytoskeletal constraints, or protein-protein interactions, because all proteins show 100% recovery in fluorescence recovery after photobleaching experiments at 37 degrees C. In addition, the raft-associated proteins cannot be coclustered by antibodies on the apical membrane at 12 degrees C. The interpretation that best fits these data is that the apical membrane of epithelial cells is a phase-separated system with a continuous (percolating) raft phase <25 degrees C in which isolated domains of the nonraft phase are dispersed, whereas at 37 degrees C the nonraft phase becomes the continuous phase with isolated domains of the raft phase dispersed in it.