Homeostasis of plasma membrane viscosity in fluctuating temperatures


Authors for correspondence:
John Runions
Tel: +44 1865 483 964
Email: jrunions@brookes.ac.uk

Harriet G. McWatters
Tel: +44 1865 275 028
Email: Harriet.McWatters@plants.ox.ac.uk


  • Temperature has a direct effect at the cellular level on an organism. For instance, in the case of biomembranes, cooling causes lipids to lose entropy and pack closely together. Reducing temperature should, in the absence of other factors, increase the viscosity of a lipid membrane. We have investigated the effect of temperature variation on plasma membrane (PM) viscosity.
  • We used dispersion tracking of photoactivated green fluorescent protein (GFP) and fluorescence recovery after photobleaching in wild-type and desaturase mutant Arabidopsis thaliana plants along with membrane lipid saturation analysis to monitor the effect of temperature and membrane lipid composition on PM viscosity.
  • Plasma membrane viscosity in A. thaliana is negatively correlated with ambient temperature only under constant-temperature conditions. In the more natural environment of temperature cycles, plants actively manage PM viscosity to counteract the direct effects of temperature.
  • Plasma membrane viscosity is regulated by altering the proportion of desaturated fatty acids. In cold conditions, cell membranes accumulate desaturated fatty acids, which decreases membrane viscosity and vice versa. Moreover, we show that control of fatty acid desaturase 2 (FAD2)-dependent lipid desaturation is essential for this homeostasis of membrane viscosity. Finally, a lack of FAD2 function results in aberrant temperature responses.