Critical Fluctuations in Plasma Membrane Vesicles

We demonstrate critical behavior in giant plasma membrane vesicles (GPMVs) that are isolated directly from living cells. GPMVs contain two liquid phases at low temperatures and one liquid phase at high temperatures and exhibit transition temperatures in the range of 15 to 25 °C. In the two-phase region, line tensions linearly approach zero as temperature is increased to the transition. In the one-phase region, micrometer-scale composition fluctuations occur and become increasingly large and long-lived as temperature is decreased to the transition. These results indicate proximity to a critical point and are quantitatively consistent with established theory. Our observations of robust critical fluctuations suggest that the compositions of mammalian plasma membranes are tuned to reside near a miscibility critical point and that heterogeneity corresponding to <50 nm-sized compositional fluctuations are present in GPMV membranes at physiological temperatures. Our results provide new insights for plasma membrane heterogeneity that may be related to functional lipid raft domains in live cells.