The mechanism by which cross-linked glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored proteins are immobilized has been a mystery because both the binding to a transmembrane protein and attachment to a rigid cytoskeleton are needed. Using laser tweezers surface scanning resistance (SSR) technology, we obtained physical evidence for cross-linked GPI-anchored protein, Qa-2, binding to a transmembrane protein and for diffusion to discrete cytoskeleton attachment sites. At low levels of cross-linking of Qa-2 molecules, the resistance to lateral movement was that expected of monomeric lipid-anchored proteins, and no specific binding to cytoskeleton-attached structures was observed. When aggregates of the GPI-anchored protein, Qa-2, were scanned across plasma membranes, the background resistance was much higher than expected for a GPI-anchored protein alone and submicron domains of even higher resistance were observed (designated as elastic or non-elastic barriers) at a density of 82 (61 elastic and 21 small non-elastic barriers) per 100 μm2. Elastic barriers involved weak but specific bonds to the actin cytoskeleton (broken by forces of 2 or 4 pN and were removed by cytochalasin D). Small non-elastic barriers (50-100 nm) depended upon membrane cholesterol and were closely correlated with caveolae density. Thus, cross-linked GPI-anchored proteins can diffuse through the membrane in complex with a transmembrane protein and bind weakly to discrete cytoskeleton attachment sites either associated with flexible actin networks or sphingolipid-cholesterol rich microdomains in live cell membranes. Our SSR measurements provide the first description of the physical characteristics of the interactions between rafts and stable membrane structures.
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