A Brownian Dynamics Interpretation of Membrane Protein Clustering
Most plasmalemmal proteins organize in submicrometer-sized clusters whose architecture and dynamics are still enigmatic. With Syntaxin 1 as an example, we applied a combination of far-field optical nanoscopy, biochemistry, fluorescencerecovery after photobleaching (FRAP) analysis, and simulations to show that clustering can be explained by self-organization based on simple physical principles.
On average, the syntaxin clusters exhibit a diameter of 50 to 60 nanometers and contain 75 densely crowded syntaxins that dynamically exchange with freely diffusing molecules. Self-association depends on weak homophilic protein-protein interactions. Our simulations suggest that clustering immobilizes and conformationally constrains the molecules. Moreover, a balance between self-association and crowding-induced steric repulsions is sufficient to explain both the size and dynamics of syntaxin clusters and likely of many oligomerizing membrane proteins that form supramolecular structures.