ACS nano

Structural and mechanical heterogeneity of the erythrocyte membrane reveals hallmarks of membrane stability.

PMID 23347043


The erythrocyte membrane, a metabolically regulated active structure that comprises lipid molecules, junctional complexes, and the spectrin network, enables the cell to undergo large passive deformations when passing through the microvascular system. Here we use atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging and quantitative mechanical mapping at nanometer resolution to correlate structure and mechanics of key components of the erythrocyte membrane, crucial for cell integrity and function. Our data reveal structural and mechanical heterogeneity modulated by the metabolic state at unprecedented nanometer resolution. ATP-depletion, reducing skeletal junction phosphorylation in RBC cells, leads to membrane stiffening. Analysis of ghosts and shear-force opened erythrocytes show that, in the absence of cytosolic kinases, spectrin phosphorylation results in membrane stiffening at the extracellular face and a reduced junction remodeling in response to loading forces. Topography and mechanical mapping of single components at the cytoplasmic face reveal that, surprisingly, spectrin phosphorylation by ATP softens individual filaments. Our findings suggest that, besides the mechanical signature of each component, the RBC membrane mechanics is regulated by the metabolic state and the assembly of its structural elements.

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S3644 Spectrin from human erythrocytes, buffered aqueous glycerol solution