Membrane curvature is an important parameter in defining the morphology of cells, organelles and local membrane subdomains. Transport intermediates have simpler shapes, being either spheres or tubules. The generation and maintenance of curvature is of central importance for maintaining trafficking and cellular functions. It is possible that local shapes in complex membranes could help to define local subregions. In this Cell Science at a Glance article and accompanying poster, we summarize how generating, sensing and maintaining high local membrane curvature is an active process that is mediated and controlled by specialized proteins using general mechanisms: (i) changes in lipid composition and asymmetry, (ii) partitioning of shaped transmembrane domains of integral membrane proteins or protein or domain crowding, (iii) reversible insertion of hydrophobic protein motifs, (iv) nanoscopic scaffolding by oligomerized hydrophilic protein domains and, finally, (v) macroscopic scaffolding by the cytoskeleton with forces generated by polymerization and by molecular motors. We also summarize some of the discoveries about the functions of membrane curvature, where in addition to providing cell or organelle shape, local curvature can affect processes like membrane scission and fusion as well as protein concentration and enzyme activation on membranes.
Keywords: Amphipatic helix; BAR domain; Bilayer asymmetry; Lipids; Membrane curvature.
© 2015. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.