Trans-membrane area asymmetry controls the shape of cellular organelles

Galina V. Beznoussenko, Sergei S. Pilyugin, Willie J C Geerts, Michael M. Kozlov, Koert N J Burger, Alberto Luini, Jure Derganc, Alexander A. Mironov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Membrane organelles often have complicated shapes and differ in their volume, surface area and membrane curvature. The ratio between the surface area of the cytosolic and luminal leaflets (trans-membrane area asymmetry (TAA)) determines the membrane curvature within different sites of the organelle. Thus, the shape of the organelle could be critically dependent on TAA. Here, using mathematical modeling and stereological measurements of TAA during fast transformation of organelle shapes, we present evidence that suggests that when organelle volume and surface area are constant, TAA can regulate transformation of the shape of the Golgi apparatus, endosomal multivesicular bodies, and microvilli of brush borders of kidney epithelial cells. Extraction of membrane curvature by small spheres, such as COPI-dependent vesicles within the Golgi (extraction of positive curvature), or by intraluminal vesicles within endosomes (extraction of negative curvature) controls the shape of these organelles. For instance, Golgi tubulation is critically dependent on the fusion of COPI vesicles with Golgi cisternae, and vice versa, for the extraction of membrane curvature into 50–60 nm vesicles, to induce transformation of Golgi tubules into cisternae. Also, formation of intraluminal ultra-small vesicles after fusion of endosomes allows equilibration of their TAA, volume and surface area. Finally, when microvilli of the brush border are broken into vesicles and microvilli fragments, TAA of these membranes remains the same as TAA of the microvilli. Thus, TAA has a significant role in transformation of organelle shape when other factors remain constant.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5299-5333
Number of pages35
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 9 2015


  • Golgi apparatus
  • Intra-Golgi transport
  • Kiss-and-run model
  • Lipid membrane
  • Organelle shape
  • Trans-membrane area asymmetry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Spectroscopy
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications


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