Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Physical basis of some membrane shaping mechanisms

Mijo Simunovic, Coline Prévost, Andrew Callan-Jones, Patricia Bassereau

In vesicular transport pathways, membrane proteins and lipids are internalized, externalized or transported within cells, not by bulk diffusion of single molecules, but embedded in the membrane of small vesicles or thin tubules. The formation of these ‘transport carriers’ follows sequential events: membrane bending, fission from the donor compartment, transport and eventually fusion with the acceptor membrane. A similar sequence is involved during the internalization of drug or gene carriers inside cells. These membrane-shaping events are generally mediated by proteins binding to membranes. The mechanisms behind these biological processes are actively studied both in the context of cell biology and biophysics. Bin/amphiphysin/Rvs (BAR) domain proteins are ideally suited for illustrating how simple soft matter principles can account for membrane deformation by proteins. We review here some experimental methods and corresponding theoretical models to measure how these proteins affect the mechanics and the shape of membranes. In more detail, we show how an experimental method employing optical tweezers to pull a tube from a giant vesicle may give important quantitative insights into the mechanism by which proteins sense and generate membrane curvature and the mechanism of membrane scission.

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