Scanning Microscopy


The cytoplasmic face of ventral cell membranes of Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells grown on glass coverslips was imaged by atomic force microscopy (AFM) in air and under aqueous medium, in "contact" mode. Micrometer range scans on air-dried samples revealed a heterogeneous structure with some filaments, likely corresponding to actin filaments that abut the inner leaflet of the membrane, and a few semi-organized lattice structures that might correspond to clathrin lattices. Experiments in phosphate-buffered saline confirmed the heterogeneity of the inner membrane surface with the presence of large (> 100 nm) globular structures emerging from the surface. Using sub-micrometer scan ranges, protruding particles, that occupy most of the membrane surface, were imaged in liquid medium and in air. These particles, 8 to 40 nm x-y size, were still present following ethanol dehydration which extracts a large fraction of membrane lipids, indicating their proteic nature. Due, at least partly, to the presence of some peripheral proteins, high magnification images of the inner membrane surface were heterogeneous with regard to particle distribution. These data compare with those previously reported for the external membrane leaflet at the surface of living MDCK cells. They show that details of the cytosolic membrane surface can be resolved by AFM. Finally, the images support the view of a plasma membrane organization where proteins come into close proximity.

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