Membrane Nanodomains


Biomembranes are assumed to contain lateral heterogeneities, usually called domains. When they are less than ∼100 nm in diameter, they are referred to as nanodomains. Biological nanodomains have been properly identified only in the twenty first century, largely through the advent of super‐resolution microscopy techniques. Size, irrespective of lifetime, is used as a defining parameter for nanodomains. The main methods used in these studies span from the arguably earliest atomic force microscopy detection of nanodomains in a lipid bilayer, in year 2000, to the most recent observations in living cells of synapsis, receptors, exocytosis or plant membranes, based on advanced fluorescence microscopy techniques.

Key Concepts

  • Nanodomains are lateral inhomogeneities in lipid bilayers or in cell membranes, of varying lifetimes, and diameters usually below ≈200 nm.
  • Nanodomains are stabilised by low line tensions and high dipole–dipole interactions and crowding pressures.
  • Observation of nanodomains requires the use of atomic force microscopy and super‐resolution fluorescence microscopy as the main tools.

Keywords: membrane lateral inhomogeneities; membrane nanodomains; lipid rafts; line tension; atomic force microscopy; Förster resonance energy transfer; super‐resolution microscopy; single molecule

Figure 1. Sizes and lifetimes of membrane domains in cells. Adapted by M.L. Longo from Raghunathana and Kenworthy, Biochim Biophys Acta 2018 1860:2018–2031.


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Further Reading

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Goñi, Félix M, Alonso, Alicia, and Contreras, F Xabier(May 2020) Membrane Nanodomains. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028879]