Lateral heterogeneity of cell membranes has been demonstrated in numerous studies showing anomalous diffusion of membrane proteins; it has been explained by models and experiments suggesting dynamic barriers to free diffusion, that temporarily confine membrane proteins into microscopic patches. This picture, however, comes short of explaining a steady-state patchy distribution of proteins, in face of the transient opening of the barriers. In our previous work we directly imaged persistent clusters of MHC-I, a type I transmembrane protein, and proposed a model of a dynamic equilibrium between proteins newly delivered to the cell surface by vesicle traffic, temporary confinement by dynamic barriers to lateral diffusion, and dispersion of the clusters by diffusion over the dynamic barriers. Our model predicted that the clusters are dynamic, appearing when an exocytic vesicle fuses with the plasma membrane and dispersing with a typical lifetime that depends on lateral diffusion and the dynamics of barriers. In a subsequent work, we showed this to be the case. Here we test another prediction of the model, and show that changing the stability of actin barriers to lateral diffusion changes cluster lifetimes. We also develop a model for the distribution of cluster lifetimes, consistent with the function of barriers to lateral diffusion in maintaining MHC-I clusters.
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