Membrane Diffusion Occurs by Continuous-Time Random Walk Sustained by Vesicular Trafficking

Biophys J. 2018 Jun 19;114(12):2887-2899. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2018.04.024.


Diffusion in cellular membranes is regulated by processes that occur over a range of spatial and temporal scales. These processes include membrane fluidity, interprotein and interlipid interactions, interactions with membrane microdomains, interactions with the underlying cytoskeleton, and cellular processes that result in net membrane movement. The complex, non-Brownian diffusion that results from these processes has been difficult to characterize, and moreover, the impact of factors such as membrane recycling on membrane diffusion remains largely unexplored. We have used a careful statistical analysis of single-particle tracking data of the single-pass plasma membrane protein CD93 to show that the diffusion of this protein is well described by a continuous-time random walk in parallel with an aging process mediated by membrane corrals. The overall result is an evolution in the diffusion of CD93: proteins initially diffuse freely on the cell surface but over time become increasingly trapped within diffusion-limiting membrane corrals. Stable populations of freely diffusing and corralled CD93 are maintained by an endocytic/exocytic process in which corralled CD93 is selectively endocytosed, whereas freely diffusing CD93 is replenished by exocytosis of newly synthesized and recycled CD93. This trafficking not only maintained CD93 diffusivity but also maintained the heterogeneous distribution of CD93 in the plasma membrane. These results provide insight into the nature of the biological and biophysical processes that can lead to significantly non-Brownian diffusion of membrane proteins and demonstrate that ongoing membrane recycling is critical to maintaining steady-state diffusion and distribution of proteins in the plasma membrane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CHO Cells
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cricetulus
  • Diffusion
  • Endocytosis
  • Exocytosis
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism


  • Membrane Glycoproteins