Membrane mechanisms for signal transduction: the coupling of the meso-scale raft domains to membrane-skeleton-induced compartments and dynamic protein complexes

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2012 Apr;23(2):126-44. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2012.01.018. Epub 2012 Jan 30.


Virtually all biological membranes on earth share the basic structure of a two-dimensional liquid. Such universality and peculiarity are comparable to those of the double helical structure of DNA, strongly suggesting the possibility that the fundamental mechanisms for the various functions of the plasma membrane could essentially be understood by a set of simple organizing principles, developed during the course of evolution. As an initial effort toward the development of such understanding, in this review, we present the concept of the cooperative action of the hierarchical three-tiered meso-scale (2-300 nm) domains in the plasma membrane: (1) actin membrane-skeleton-induced compartments (40-300 nm), (2) raft domains (2-20 nm), and (3) dynamic protein complex domains (3-10nm). Special attention is paid to the concept of meso-scale domains, where both thermal fluctuations and weak cooperativity play critical roles, and the coupling of the raft domains to the membrane-skeleton-induced compartments as well as dynamic protein complexes. The three-tiered meso-domain architecture of the plasma membrane provides an excellent perspective for understanding the membrane mechanisms of signal transduction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / chemistry
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Cholesterol / chemistry
  • Diffusion
  • Membrane Microdomains / chemistry*
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Models, Biological
  • Multiprotein Complexes / chemistry*
  • Protein Interaction Mapping
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Cholesterol