Lipid rafts are membrane microdomains enriched with cholesterol, glycosphingolipids, and proteins. Although they are broadly presumed to play a pivotal role in various cellular functions, there are still fierce debates about the composition, functions, and even existence of lipid rafts. Here high-resolution and time-lapse in situ atomic force microscopy is used to directly confirm the existence of lipid rafts in native erythrocyte membranes. The results indicate some important aspects of lipid rafts: most of the lipid rafts are in the size range of 100–300 nm and have irregular shape; the detergent-resistant membranes consist of cholesterol microdomains and are not likely the same as the lipid rafts; cholesterol contributes significantly to the formation and stability of the protein domains; and Band III is an important protein of lipid rafts in the inner leaflet of erythrocyte membranes, indicating that lipid rafts are exactly the functional domains in plasma membrane. This work provides direct evidence of the presence, size, and main constitutive protein of lipid rafts at a resolution of a few nanometers, which will pave the way for studying their structure and functions in detail.
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