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Nanoscale spacing between the plasma membrane and the underlying cortical actin cytoskeleton profoundly modulates cellular morphology, mechanics, and function. Measuring this distance has been a key challenge in cell biology. Current methods for dissecting the nanoscale spacing either limit themselves to complex survey design using fixed samples or rely on diffraction-limited fluorescence imaging whose spatial resolution is insufficient to quantify distances on the nanoscale. Using dual-color super-resolution STED (stimulated-emission-depletion) microscopy, we here overcome this challenge and accurately measure the density distribution of the cortical actin cytoskeleton and the distance between the actin cortex and the membrane in live Jurkat T-cells. We found an asymmetric cortical actin density distribution with a mean width of 230 (+105/-125) nm. The spatial distances measured between the maximum density peaks of the cortex and the membrane were bi-modally distributed with mean values of 50  ±  15 nm and 120  ±  40 nm, respectively. Taken together with the finite width of the cortex, our results suggest that in some regions the cortical actin is closer than 10 nm to the membrane and a maximum of 20 nm in others.

Original publication




Journal article


J Phys D Appl Phys

Publication Date





actin cortex, membrane-cortex interface, plasma membrane, super-resolution microscopy