Criticality of plasma membrane lipids reflects activation state of macrophage cells

Eugenia Cammarota, Chiara Soriani, Raphaelle Taub, Fiona Morgan, Jiro Sakai, Sarah L. Veatch, Clare E. Bryant, Pietro Cicuta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Signalling is of particular importance in immune cells, and upstream in the signalling pathway many membrane receptors are functional only as complexes, co-locating with particular lipid species. Work over the last 15 years has shown that plasma membrane lipid composition is close to a critical point of phase separation, with evidence that cells adapt their composition in ways that alter the proximity to this thermodynamic point. Macrophage cells are a key component of the innate immune system, are responsive to infections and regulate the local state of inflammation. We investigate changes in the plasma membrane's proximity to the critical point as a response to stimulation by various pro- and anti-inflammatory agents. Pro-inflammatory (interferon γ, Kdo 2-Lipid A, lipopolysaccharide) perturbations induce an increase in the transition temperature of giant plasma membrane vesicles; anti-inflammatory interleukin 4 has the opposite effect. These changes recapitulate complex plasma membrane composition changes, and are consistent with lipid criticality playing a master regulatory role: being closer to critical conditions increases membrane protein activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190803
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number163
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Critical lipidomics
  • Liquid-liquid phase separation
  • Macrophage activation
  • Plasma membrane composition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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