Research ArticleCELL BIOLOGY

Mapping bilayer thickness in the ER membrane

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Science Advances  11 Nov 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 46, eaba5130
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba5130


In the plasma membrane and in synthetic membranes, resident lipids may laterally unmix to form domains of distinct biophysical properties. Whether lipids also drive the lateral organization of intracellular membranes is largely unknown. Here, we describe genetically encoded fluorescent reporters visualizing local variations in bilayer thickness. Using them, we demonstrate that long-chained ceramides promote the formation of discrete domains of increased bilayer thickness in the yeast ER, particularly in the future plane of cleavage and at ER–trans-Golgi contact sites. Thickening of the ER membrane in the cleavage plane contributed to the formation of lateral diffusion barriers, which restricted the passage of short, but not long, protein transmembrane domains between the mother and bud ER compartments. Together, our data establish that the ER membrane is laterally organized and that ceramides drive this process, and provide insights into the physical nature and biophysical mechanisms of the lateral diffusion barriers that compartmentalize the ER.

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