The rate of lateral diffusion of proteins over micron-scale distances in the plasma membrane (PM) of mammalian cells is much slower than in artificial membranes [1, 2]. Different models have been advanced to account for this discrepancy. They invoke either effects on the apparent viscosity of cell membranes through, for example, protein crowding [3, 4], or a role for cortical factors such as actin or spectrin filaments . Here, we use photobleaching to test specific predictions of these models . Neither loss of detectable cortical actin nor knockdown of spectrin expression has any effect on diffusion. Disruption of the PM by formation of ventral membrane sheets or permeabilization induces aggregation of membrane proteins, with a concomitant increase in rates of diffusion for the nonaggregated fraction. In addition, procedures that directly increase or decrease the total protein content of the PM in live cells cause reciprocal changes in lateral diffusion rates. Our data imply that slow diffusion over micron-scale distances is an intrinsic property of the membrane itself and that the density of proteins within the membrane is a significant parameter in determining rates of lateral diffusion.