The Influence of Molecular Reach and Diffusivity on the Efficacy of Membrane-Confined Reactions

Biophys J. 2019 Oct 1;117(7):1189-1201. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2019.08.023. Epub 2019 Aug 28.


Signaling by surface receptors often relies on tethered reactions whereby an enzyme bound to the cytoplasmic tail of a receptor catalyzes reactions on substrates within reach. The overall length and stiffness of the receptor tail, the enzyme, and the substrate determine a biophysical parameter termed the molecular reach of the reaction. This parameter determines the probability that the receptor-tethered enzyme will contact the substrate in the volume proximal to the membrane when separated by different distances within the membrane plane. In this work, we develop particle-based stochastic reaction-diffusion models to study the interplay between molecular reach and diffusion. We find that increasing the molecular reach can increase reaction efficacy for slowly diffusing receptors, whereas for rapidly diffusing receptors, increasing molecular reach reduces reaction efficacy. In contrast, if reactions are forced to take place within the two-dimensional plasma membrane instead of the three-dimensional volume proximal to it or if molecules diffuse in three dimensions, increasing molecular reach increases reaction efficacy for all diffusivities. We show results in the context of immune checkpoint receptors (PD-1 dephosphorylating CD28), a standard opposing kinase-phosphatase reaction, and a minimal two-particle model. The work highlights the importance of the three-dimensional nature of many two-dimensional membrane-confined interactions, illustrating a role for molecular reach in controlling biochemical reactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • CD28 Antigens / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Diffusion
  • Models, Biological
  • Phenotype
  • Phosphorylation
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • CD28 Antigens
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor