Repairing a torn cell surface: Make way, lysosomes to the rescue

Paul L. McNeil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Biological membranes are often described as 'self-sealing' structures. If indeed membranes do have an inherent capacity for repair, does this explain how a cell can rapidly reseal a very large (1-1000 μm2) disruption in its plasma membrane? It is becoming increasingly clear that, in nucleated animal cells, the cytoplasm plays an active and essential role in resealing. A rapid and apparently chaotic membrane fusion response is initiated locally in the cytoplasm by the Ca2+ that floods in through a disruption: cytoplasmic vesicles are thereby joined with one another (homotypically) and with the surrounding plasma membrane (exocytotically). As a consequence, internal membrane is added to cell surface membrane at the disruption site. In the case of large disruptions, this addition is hypothesized to function as a 'patch'. In sea urchin eggs, the internal compartment used is the yolk granule. Several recent studies have significantly advanced our understanding of how cells survive disruption-inducing injuries. In fibroblasts, the lysosome has been identified as a key organelle in resealing. Protein markers of the lysosome membrane appear on the surface of fibroblasts at sites of disruption. Antibodies against lysosome-specific proteins, introduced into the living fibroblast, inhibit its resealing response. In gastric eptithelial cells, local depolymerization of filamentous actin has been identified as a crucial step in resealing: it may function to remove a barrier to lysosome-plasma membrane contact leading to exocytotic fusion. Plasma membrane disruption in epithelial cells induces depolymerization of cortical filamentous actin and, if this depolymerization response is inhibited, resealing is blocked. In the Xenopus egg, the cortical cytoskeleton has been identified as an active participant in post-resealing repair of disruption-related damage to underlying cell cortex. A striking, highly localized actin polymerization response is observable around the margin of cortical defects. A myosin powered contraction occurring within this newly formed zone of F-actin then drives closure of the defect in a purse-string fashion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)873-879
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2002


  • Fusion
  • Lysosome
  • Plasma membrane
  • Vesicle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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