Enhancement of cell membrane invaginations, vesiculation and uptake of macromolecules by protonation of the cell surface

Nadav Ben-Dov, Rafi Korenstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The different pathways of endocytosis share an initial step involving local inward curvature of the cell's lipid bilayer. It has been shown that to generate membrane curvature, proteins or lipids enforce transversal asymmetry of the plasma membrane. Thus it emerges as a general phenomenon that transversal membrane asymmetry is the common required element for the formation of membrane curvature. The present study demonstrates that elevating proton concentration at the cell surface stimulates the formation of membrane invaginations and vesiculation accompanied by efficient uptake of macromolecules (Dextran-FITC, 70 kD), relative to the constitutive one. The insensitivity of proton induced uptake to inhibiting treatments and agents of the known endocytic pathways suggests the entry of macromolecules to proceeds via a yet undefined route. This is in line with the fact that neither ATP depletion, nor the lowering of temperature, abolishes the uptake process. In addition, fusion mechanism such as associated with low pH uptake of toxins and viral proteins can be disregarded by employing the polysaccharide dextran as the uptake molecule. The proton induced uptake increases linearly in the extracellular pH range of 6.5 to 4.5, and possesses a steep increase at the range of 4> pH>3, reaching a plateau at pH≤3. The kinetics of the uptake implies that the induced vesicles release their content to the cytosol and undergo rapid recycling to the plasma membrane. We suggest that protonation of the cell's surface induces local charge asymmetries across the cell membrane bilayer, inducing inward curvature of the cell membrane and consequent vesiculation and uptake.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere35204
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - 30 Apr 2012


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