When Physics Takes Over: BAR Proteins and Membrane Curvature

Trends Cell Biol. 2015 Dec;25(12):780-792. doi: 10.1016/j.tcb.2015.09.005. Epub 2015 Oct 28.


Cell membranes become highly curved during membrane trafficking, cytokinesis, infection, immune response, or cell motion. Bin/amphiphysin/Rvs (BAR) domain proteins with their intrinsically curved and anisotropic shape are involved in many of these processes, but with a large spectrum of modes of action. In vitro experiments and multiscale computer simulations have contributed in identifying a minimal set of physical parameters, namely protein density on the membrane, membrane tension, and membrane shape, that control how bound BAR domain proteins behave on the membrane. In this review, we summarize the multifaceted coupling of BAR proteins to membrane mechanics and propose a simple phase diagram that recapitulates the effects of these parameters.

Keywords: BAR proteins; curvature sensing; membrane curvature; membrane scission; membrane shaping; protein scaffold.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / physiology*
  • Cell Shape / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / physiology*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology
  • Nuclear Proteins / physiology*
  • Physical Phenomena*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / physiology
  • Protein Transport / physiology


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • amphiphysin