Strength in numbers: effect of protein crowding on the shape of cell membranes

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Continuous reshaping of the plasma membrane into pleomorphic shapes is critical for a plethora of cellular functions. How the cell carries out this enigmatic control of membrane remodeling has remained an active research field for decades and several molecular and biophysical mechanisms have shown to be involved in overcoming the energy barrier associated with membrane bending. The reported mechanisms behind membrane bending have been largely concerned with structural protein features, however, in the last decade, reports on the ability of densely packed proteins to bend membranes by protein-protein crowding, have challenged prevailing mechanistic views. Crowding has now been shown to generate spontaneous vesicle formation and tubular morphologies on cell- and model membranes, demonstrating crowding as a relevant player involved in the bending of membranes. Still, current research is largely based on unnatural overexpression of proteins in non-native domains, and together with efforts in modeling, this has led to questioning the in vivo impact of crowding. In this review, we examine this previously overlooked mechanism by summarizing recent advances in the understanding of protein-protein crowding and its prevalence in cellular membrane-shaping processes.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiochemical Society Transactions
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1257-1267
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • bending mechanism, entropic pressure, excluded volume, membrane curvature, membrane proteins, protein crowding

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