Biomembrane Mechanical Properties Direct Diverse Cell Functions

  • Dennis E. DischerEmail author


The shape of any cell is defined and delimited by the shape of the outermost membrane of lipid. Whether a cell’s membrane is locally flat, protrusive, or invaginated at a given instant is often the resultant of forces generated by molecules within the cell as well as those attributable to external factors. For mammalian cells, major changes in cell shape are evident in processes that include cell spreading, migration, and cell division as well as differentiation and death. Such processes are illustrated here for blood cells, starting with stem cells in bone marrow plus the many different types of circulating cells, particularly RBCs whose membranes have been more deeply studied for decades compared to other mammalian cell types. A handful of the key proteins that apply or resist forces at the membrane are described here while focusing on the cortical protein meshworks that underlie membranes and contribute to properties and processes. Engulfment of particles and cells is one particular focus, with broad relevance to disease and therapy. Equally interesting is the frequently noted observation that changes in cell shape and orientation are also evident in shape and orientation changes of the cell's nucleus—which is again delimited by a membrane. A final section focuses on the physics of a sub-membranous lamina in the nucleus, which interfaces with the genome and provides insight into mechanosensing and cell fates.


Red blood cells Hematopoiesis Membrane skeleton Myosin Mechanobiology Nucleus Lamins Differentiation 



The author gratefully acknowledges support of the National Institutes of Health, including National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (R01 HL124106, R21 HL128187) and National Cancer Institute under Physical Sciences Oncology Center Award U54 CA193417, a Human Frontiers Sciences Program grant RGP0024, and the US–Israel Binational Science Foundation, National Science Foundation grant agreement CMMI 15-48571.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Molecular and Cell Biophysics Lab, University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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