The organization and dynamics of receptors and other molecules in the plasma membrane are not well understood. Here we analyzed the spatio-temporal dynamics of T cell antigen receptor (TCR) complexes and linker for activation of T cells (Lat), a key adaptor molecule in the TCR signaling pathway, in T cell membranes using high-speed photoactivated localization microscopy, dual-color fluorescence cross-correlation spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy. In quiescent T cells, both molecules existed in separate membrane domains (protein islands), and these domains concatenated after T cell activation. These concatemers were identical to signaling microclusters, a prominent hallmark of T cell activation. This separation versus physical juxtapositioning of receptor domains and domains containing downstream signaling molecules in quiescent versus activated T cells may be a general feature of plasma membrane-associated signal transduction.
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