Tetraspanin-enriched microdomains: a functional unit in cell plasma membranes

Trends Cell Biol. 2009 Sep;19(9):434-46. doi: 10.1016/j.tcb.2009.06.004. Epub 2009 Aug 24.


Membrane lipids and proteins are non-randomly distributed and are unable to diffuse freely in the plane of the membrane. This is because of multiple constraints imposed both by the cortical cytoskeleton and by the preference of lipids and proteins to cluster into diverse and specialized membrane domains, including tetraspanin-enriched microdomains, glycosylphosphatidyl inositol-linked proteins nanodomains and caveolae, among others. Recent biophysical characterization of tetraspanin-enriched microdomains suggests that they might be specially suited for the regulation of avidity of adhesion receptors and the compartmentalization of enzymatic activities. Moreover, modulation by tetraspanins of the function of adhesion receptors involved in inflammation, lymphocyte activation, cancer and pathogen infection suggests potential as therapeutic targets. This review explores this emerging picture of tetraspanin microdomains and discusses the implications for cell adhesion, proteolysis and pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Signal Transduction


  • Membrane Proteins