Plasma membrane-associated superstructure: Have we overlooked a new type of organelle in eukaryotic cells?

J Theor Biol. 2015 Sep 7;380:346-58. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2015.05.029. Epub 2015 Jun 9.


A variety of intriguing plasma membrane-associated regions, including focal adhesions, adherens junctions, tight junctions, immunological synapses, neuromuscular junctions and the primary cilia, among many others, have been described in eukaryotic cells. Emphasizing their importance, alteration in their molecular structures induces or correlates with different pathologies. These regions display surface proteins connected to intracellular molecules, including cytoskeletal component, which maintain their cytoarchitecture, and signalling proteins, which regulate their organization and functions. Based on the molecular similarities and other common features observed, we suggest that, despite differences in external appearances, all these regions are just the same superstructure that appears in different locations and cells. We hypothesize that this superstructure represents an overlooked new type of organelle that we call plasma membrane-associated superstructure (PMAS). Therefore, we suggest that eukaryotic cells include classical organelles (e.g. mitochondria, Golgi and others) and also PMAS. We speculate that this new type of organelle might be an innovation associated to the emergence of eukaryotes. Finally we discuss the implications of the hypothesis proposed.

Keywords: Adherens junctions; Evolution; Focal adhesion; Primary cilium; Tight junctions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure*
  • Cell Polarity
  • Eukaryotic Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Organelles*