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Interleaflet Coupling, Pinning, and Leaflet Asymmetry—Major Players in Plasma Membrane Nanodomain Formation

Review article
Authors Toyoshi Fujimoto
Ingela Parmryd
Published in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
Volume 4
ISSN 2296-634X
Publication year 2017
Published at
Language en
Subject categories Cell Biology, Biophysics, Biochemistry


The plasma membrane has a highly asymmetric distribution of lipids and contains dynamic nanodomains many of which are liquid entities surrounded by a second, slightly different, liquid environment. Contributing to the dynamics is a continuous repartitioning of components between the two types of liquids and transient links between lipids and proteins, both to extracellular matrix and cytoplasmic components, that temporarily pin membrane constituents. This make plasma membrane nanodomains exceptionally challenging to study and much of what is known about membrane domains has been deduced from studies on model membranes at equilibrium. However, living cells are by definition not at equilibrium and lipids are distributed asymmetrically with inositol phospholipids, phosphatidylethanolamines and phosphatidylserines confined mostly to the inner leaflet and glyco- and sphingolipids to the outer leaflet. Moreover, each phospholipid group encompasses a wealth of species with different acyl chain combinations whose lateral distribution is heterogeneous. It is becoming increasingly clear that asymmetry and pinning play important roles in plasma membrane nanodomain formation and coupling between the two lipid monolayers. How asymmetry, pinning, and interdigitation contribute to the plasma membrane organization is only beginning to be unraveled and here we discuss their roles and interdependence.

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