Domains of increased thickness in microvillar membranes of the small intestinal enterocyte

Andreas Hjarne Kunding, Sune M. Christensen, Michael Danielsen, Gert H. Hansen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The apical surface of the enterocyte is sculpted into a dense array of cylindrical microvillar protrusions by supporting actin filaments. Membrane microdomains (rafts) enriched in cholesterol and glycosphingolipids comprise roughly 50% of the microvillar membrane and play a vital role in orchestrating absorptive/digestive action of dietary nutrients at this important cellular interface. Increased membrane thickness is believed to be a morphological characteristic of rafts. Thus, we investigated whether the high contents of lipid rafts in the microvillar membrane is reflected in local variations in membrane thickness. We measured membrane thickness directly from electron micrographs of sections of fixed mucosal tissue. Indeed, mapping of the microvillar membrane revealed a biphasic distribution of membrane thickness. As a point of reference the thickness distribution of the basolateral membrane was clearly monophasic. The encountered domains of increased thickness (DITs) occupied 48% of the microvillar membrane and from the data we estimated the area of a single DIT to have a lower limit of 600 nm2. In other experiments we mapped the organization of biochemically defined lipid rafts by immunogold labeling of alkaline phosphatase, a well documented raft marker. Strikingly, the alkaline phosphatase localized to distinct regions of the membrane in a pattern similar to the observed distribution of DITs. Although we were unable to measure membrane thickness directly on the immunogold labeled specimens, and thereby establish an unequivocal connection between DITs and rafts, we conclude that the brush border membrane of the enterocyte contains microdomains distinguishable both by membrane morphology and protein composition.
Keyword: Membrane thickness,Membrane architecture,Lipid rafts
Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Membrane Biology
Issue number4-6
Pages (from-to)170-177
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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