Planar Optical Nanoantennas Resolve Cholesterol-Dependent Nanoscale Heterogeneities in the Plasma Membrane of Living Cells

Optical nanoantennas can efficiently confine light into nanoscopic hotspots, enabling single-molecule detection sensitivity at biological relevant conditions. This innovative approach to breach the diffraction limit offers a versatile platform to investigate the dynamics of individual biomolecules in living cell membranes and their partitioning into cholesterol-dependent lipid nanodomains. Here, we present optical nanoantenna arrays with accessible surface hotspots to study the characteristic diffusion dynamics of phosphoethanolamine (PE) and sphingomyelin (SM) in the plasma membrane of living cells at the nanoscale. Fluorescence burst analysis and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy performed on nanoantennas of different gap sizes show that, unlike PE, SM is transiently trapped in cholesterol-enriched nanodomains of 10 nm diameter with short characteristic times around 100 mu s. The removal of cholesterol led to the free diffusion of SM, consistent with the dispersion of nanodomains. Our results are consistent with the existence of highly transient and fluctuating nanoscale assemblies enriched by cholesterol and sphingolipids in living cell membranes, also known as lipid rafts. Quantitative data on sphingolipids partitioning into lipid rafts is crucial to understand the spatiotemporal heterogeneous organization of transient molecular complexes on the membrane of living cells at the nanoscale. The proposed technique is fully biocompatible and thus provides various opportunities for biophysics and live cell research to reveal details that remain hidden in confocal diffraction-limited measurements.

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Nano Letters, 17, 10, 6295-6302

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 Record created 2017-11-08, last modified 2019-03-17

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