Proteins and lipids are heterogeneously distributed in biological membranes. The correct function of membrane proteins depends on spatiotemporal organization into defined membrane areas, called lipid domains or rafts. Lipid microdomains are therefore thought to assist compartmentalization of membranes. However, how lipid and protein assemblies are organized and whether proteins are actively involved in these processes remains poorly understood. We now have identified flotillins to be responsible for lateral segregation of defined membrane domains in the model organism Bacillus subtilis. We show that flotillins form large, dynamic assemblies that are able to influence membrane fluidity and prevent condensation of Laurdan stained membrane regions. Absence of flotillins in vivo leads to coalescence of distinct domains of high membrane order and, hence, loss of flotillins in the bacterial plasma-membrane reduces membrane heterogeneity. We show that flotillins interact with various proteins involved in protein secretion, cell wall metabolism, transport and membrane-related signalling processes. Importantly, maintenance of membrane heterogeneity is critical for vital cellular processes such as protein secretion.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.