Variations in Plasma Membrane Topography Can Explain Heterogenous Diffusion Coefficients Obtained by Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy

Front Cell Dev Biol. 2020 Aug 11:8:767. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2020.00767. eCollection 2020.


Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) is frequently used to study diffusion in cell membranes, primarily the plasma membrane. The diffusion coefficients reported in the plasma membrane of the same cell type and even within single cells typically display a large spread. We have investigated whether this spread can be explained by variations in membrane topography throughout the cell surface, that changes the amount of membrane in the FCS focal volume at different locations. Using FCS, we found that diffusion of the membrane dye DiI in the apical plasma membrane was consistently faster above the nucleus than above the cytoplasm. Using live cell scanning ion conductance microscopy (SICM) to obtain a topography map of the cell surface, we demonstrate that cell surface roughness is unevenly distributed with the plasma membrane above the nucleus being the smoothest, suggesting that the difference in diffusion observed in FCS is related to membrane topography. FCS modeled on simulated diffusion in cell surfaces obtained by SICM was consistent with the FCS data from live cells and demonstrated that topography variations can cause the appearance of anomalous diffusion in FCS measurements. Furthermore, we found that variations in the amount of the membrane marker DiD, a proxy for the membrane, but not the transmembrane protein TCRζ or the lipid-anchored protein Lck, in the FCS focal volume were related to variations in diffusion times at different positions in the plasma membrane. This relationship was seen at different positions both at the apical cell and basal cell sides. We conclude that it is crucial to consider variations in topography in the interpretation of FCS results from membranes.

Keywords: diffusion; fluorescence correlation spectroscopy; membrane topography; plasma membrane; scanning ion conductance microscopy.