Cell membranes serve many functions, from providing protection to transporting materials in and out of our cells — thanks largely to their 2-dimensional fluid-like behavior.
Regular cellular processes such as cell migration, infection, signaling, adhesion, and cell division lead to localized membrane “stretching,” causing a “flow” to the site where such activities occurred in order to relax increased membrane tension.
Until now it has been unclear how rapidly the cell membrane flows to relax such gradients. Recent work suggested that the flows are very slow, confining membrane tension changes to small areas on the cell surface.
A collaboration between the Erdem Karatekin and David Zenisek labs at Yale School of Medicine, and the Benjamin Machta lab in the Department of Physics, has discovered that cell membranes in fact flow at vastly different speeds, reflecting the distinct needs of different cell types. The work appears in the journal Science Advances.
The results suggest that the speed with which the cell membrane flows may be adapted to the way membranes are distributed and recycled in different cell types.