Dissecting the actin cortex density and membrane-cortex distance in living cells by super-resolution microscopy.
Clausen MP., Colin-York H., Schneider F., Eggeling C., Fritzsche M.
Nanoscale spacing between the plasma membrane and the underlying cortical actin cytoskeleton profoundly modulates cellular morphology, mechanics, and function. Measuring this distance has been a key challenge in cell biology. Current methods for dissecting the nanoscale spacing either limit themselves to complex survey design using fixed samples or rely on diffraction-limited fluorescence imaging whose spatial resolution is insufficient to quantify distances on the nanoscale. Using dual-color super-resolution STED (stimulated-emission-depletion) microscopy, we here overcome this challenge and accurately measure the density distribution of the cortical actin cytoskeleton and the distance between the actin cortex and the membrane in live Jurkat T-cells. We found an asymmetric cortical actin density distribution with a mean width of 230 (+105/-125) nm. The spatial distances measured between the maximum density peaks of the cortex and the membrane were bi-modally distributed with mean values of 50 ± 15 nm and 120 ± 40 nm, respectively. Taken together with the finite width of the cortex, our results suggest that in some regions the cortical actin is closer than 10 nm to the membrane and a maximum of 20 nm in others.