We test here a previously proposed hypothesis about lateral heterogeneity of cell membranes, a model predicting that heterogenity is maintained by a combination of delivery and intake of molecules with barriers to lateral free diffusion. To test the validity of the model, we observed green florescent protein tagged major histocompatibility complex class I patches on the plasma membrane of mouse fibroblasts, using total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy in real time. The dynamic characterization revealed the life course of these patches comprises delivery of molecules at a short instant, followed by a slow, exponential decay, corresponding to diffusion of the molecules over dynamic barriers to free lateral diffusion. The characteristic lifetime of the patches, extracted from the measurements, is ∼30 s, in excellent agreement with the predictions of the model.
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