Membrane Organization and Physical Regulation of Lymphocyte Antigen Receptors: A Biophysicist's Perspective

J Membr Biol. 2019 Oct;252(4-5):397-412. doi: 10.1007/s00232-019-00085-2. Epub 2019 Jul 27.


Receptors at the membrane of immune cells are the central players of innate and adaptative immunity, providing effective defence mechanisms against pathogens or cancer cells. Their function is intimately linked to their position at and within the membrane which provides accessibility, mobility as well as membrane proximal cytoskeleton anchoring, all of these elements playing important roles in the final function and links to cellular actions. Understanding how immune cells integrate the specific signals received at their membrane to take a decision remains an immense challenge and a very active field of fundamental and applied research. Recent progress in imaging and micromanipulation techniques have led to an unprecedented refinement in the description of molecular structures and supramolecular assemblies at the immune cell membrane, and provided a glimpse into their dynamics and regulation by force. Several key elements have been scrutinized such as the roles of relative sizes of molecules, lateral organisation, motion in the membrane of the receptors, but also physical cues such as forces, mediated by cellular substrates of different rigidities or applied by the cell itself, in conjunction with its partner cell. We review here these recent discoveries associated with a description of the biophysical methods used. While a conclusive picture integrating all of these components is still lacking, mainly due to the implication of diverse and different mechanisms and spatio-temporal scales involved, the amount of quantitative data available opens the way for physical modelling and numerical simulations and new avenues for experimental research.

Keywords: Cell adhesion mechanisms; Immunobiophysics; Lymphocyte; Mechanobiology; Receptors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / immunology
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / chemistry*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Antigen / immunology
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Receptors, Antigen