A fluorescent membrane tension probe


Cells and organelles are delimited by lipid bilayers in which high deformability is essential to many cell processes, including motility, endocytosis and cell division. Membrane tension is therefore a major regulator of the cell processes that remodel membranes, albeit one that is very hard to measure in vivo. Here we show that a planarizable push–pull fluorescent probe called FliptR (fluorescent lipid tension reporter) can monitor changes in membrane tension by changing its fluorescence lifetime as a function of the twist between its fluorescent groups. The fluorescence lifetime depends linearly on membrane tension within cells, enabling an easy quantification of membrane tension by fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy. We further show, using model membranes, that this linear dependency between lifetime of the probe and membrane tension relies on a membrane-tension-dependent lipid phase separation. We also provide calibration curves that enable accurate measurement of membrane tension using fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy.

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Fig. 1: The FliptR probe.
Fig. 2: Different FliptR lifetimes correspond to different lipid compositions in cells.
Fig. 3: Response of FliptR fluorescence lifetime to osmotic shocks on cells and GUVs.
Fig. 4: Possible structural changes of lipid bilayer membranes in response to tension reported by FliptR.
Fig. 5: Response of FliptR lifetime to membrane tension in GUVs with and without phase separation induced by micropipette aspiration.


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The authors thank V. Mercier, G. Molinard and M. Laporte for technical support and useful scientific discussions. The authors thank the NMR, MS and Bioimaging platforms for services, and the University of Geneva, the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Chemical Biology, the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering and the Swiss NSF for financial support. A.R. acknowledges funding from the Human Frontier Science Program CDA-0061-08, the Swiss National Fund for Research grants nos. 31003A_130520, 31003A_149975 and 31003A_173087, and the European Research Council Starting Grant no. 311536 (2011 call). E.D. acknowledges funding from Human Frontier Science Program (LT00305/2011-L).

Author information




A.C., N.S., S.M. and A.R. designed the project. S.S. and M.D.M. synthesized the FliptR probe. E.D. and M.G.-G. designed and performed initial FLIM measurements. C.T. developed and made vertical PDMS walls for MDCK cell culture. A.C. performed all other experiments and analysis. A.C., E.D., N.S., S.M. and A.R. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Aurélien Roux.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures, and Video Captions

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Video 1

Staining of cells with FliptR

Supplementary Video 2

Fast-FLIM time-lapse of HELA cells under hyperosmotic shock

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Colom, A., Derivery, E., Soleimanpour, S. et al. A fluorescent membrane tension probe. Nature Chem 10, 1118–1125 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41557-018-0127-3

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