Cell motility: the integrating role of the plasma membrane

Eur Biophys J. 2011 Sep;40(9):1013-27. doi: 10.1007/s00249-011-0741-0. Epub 2011 Aug 11.


The plasma membrane is of central importance in the motility process. It defines the boundary separating the intracellular and extracellular environments, and mediates the interactions between a motile cell and its environment. Furthermore, the membrane serves as a dynamic platform for localization of various components which actively participate in all aspects of the motility process, including force generation, adhesion, signaling, and regulation. Membrane transport between internal membranes and the plasma membrane, and in particular polarized membrane transport, facilitates continuous reorganization of the plasma membrane and is thought to be involved in maintaining polarity and recycling of essential components in some motile cell types. Beyond its biochemical composition, the mechanical characteristics of the plasma membrane and, in particular, membrane tension are of central importance in cell motility; membrane tension affects the rates of all the processes which involve membrane deformation including edge extension, endocytosis, and exocytosis. Most importantly, the mechanical characteristics of the membrane and its biochemical composition are tightly intertwined; membrane tension and local curvature are largely determined by the biochemical composition of the membrane and the biochemical reactions taking place; at the same time, curvature and tension affect the localization of components and reaction rates. This review focuses on this dynamic interplay and the feedbacks between the biochemical and biophysical characteristics of the membrane and their effects on cell movement. New insight on these will be crucial for understanding the motility process.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Movement*
  • Cell Surface Extensions / metabolism
  • Endocytosis
  • Exocytosis
  • Humans


  • Actins