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Mol Membr Biol. 2004 May-Jun;21(3):193-205.

Plasma membrane microdomains: organization, function and trafficking.

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The Physiological Laboratory, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK.


The plasma membrane consists of a mosaic of functional microdomains facilitating a variety of physiological processes associated with the cell surface. In most cells, the majority of the cell surface is morphologically featureless, leading to difficulties in characterizing its organization and microdomain composition. The reliance on indirect and perturbing techniques has led to vigorous debate concerning the nature and even existence of some microdomains. Recently, increasing technical sophistication has been applied to study cell surface compartmentalization providing evidence for small, short-lived clusters that may be much less than 50 nm in diameter. Lipid rafts and caveolae are cholesterol-dependent, highly ordered microdomains that have received most attention in recent years, yet their precise roles in regulating functions such as cell signalling remain to be determined. Endocytosis of lipid rafts/caveolae follows a clathrin-independent route to both early endosomes and non-classical caveosomes. The observation that a variety of cellular pathogens localize to and internalize with these microdomains provides an additional incentive to characterize the organization, dynamics and functions of these domains.

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