A theoretical study of biological membrane response to temperature gradients at the single-cell level

Lior Atia, Sefi Givli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Recent experimental studies provide evidence for the existence of a spatially non-uniform temperature field in living cells and in particular in their plasma membrane. These findings have led to the development of a new and exciting field: thermal biology at the single-cell level. Here, we examine theoretically a specific aspect of this field, i.e. how temperature gradients at the single-cell level affect the phase behaviour and geometry of heterogeneous membranes. We address this issue by using the Onsager reciprocal relations combined with a simple model for a binary lipid mixture. We demonstrate that even small temperature variations along the membrane may introduce intriguing phenomena, such as phase separation above the critical temperature and unusual shape response. These results also suggest that the shape of a membrane can be manipulated by dynamically controlling the temperature field in its vicinity. The effects of intramembranous temperature gradients have never been studied experimentally. Thus, the predictions of the current contribution are of a somewhat speculative nature. Experimental verification of these results could mark the beginning of a newline of research in the field of biological membranes. We report our findings with the hope of inspiring others to perform such experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20131207
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number95
StatePublished - 6 Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Lipid membrane
  • Phase separation
  • Spontaneous curvature
  • Thermophoresis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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