Paradigm shift of the plasma membrane concept from the two-dimensional continuum fluid to the partitioned fluid: high-speed single-molecule tracking of membrane molecules

Annu Rev Biophys Biomol Struct. 2005;34:351-78. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biophys.34.040204.144637.


Recent advancements in single-molecule tracking methods with nanometer-level precision now allow researchers to observe the movement, recruitment, and activation of single molecules in the plasma membrane in living cells. In particular, on the basis of the observations by high-speed single-particle tracking at a frame rate of 40,000 frames s(1), the partitioning of the fluid plasma membrane into submicron compartments throughout the cell membrane and the hop diffusion of virtually all the molecules have been proposed. This could explain why the diffusion coefficients in the plasma membrane are considerably smaller than those in artificial membranes, and why the diffusion coefficient is reduced upon molecular complex formation (oligomerization-induced trapping). In this review, we first describe the high-speed single-molecule tracking methods, and then we critically review a new model of a partitioned fluid plasma membrane and the involvement of the actin-based membrane-skeleton "fences" and anchored-transmembrane protein "pickets" in the formation of compartment boundaries.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actins / chemistry
  • Biophysics / methods*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Diffusion
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Liposomes / metabolism
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Microscopy, Video / methods*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Molecular
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Actins
  • Liposomes
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Cholesterol