Nanoscale Properties of Biological Membranes (MembranN)

Course content

Biological membranes are the nanoscale boundaries that separate the cytoplasm of the cell from the extracellular environment and define intracellular compartments and organelles. While initially recognized mostly as static, it is now established that membranes change shape and properties in striking ways thus controlling multiple fundamental processes of life such as cell signaling and sensory pathways. Their overall shape and characteristics is tightly regulated by a continuous interplay between the lipid constituents and membrane-associated proteins. On the other hand multiple’s protein function as well as trafficking and sorting are regulated by membrane characteristics and shape. As a result a multitude of essential cellular functions including endocytosis and signalling are controlled by the complex interplay between membrane properties and membrane associated proteins properties on the nanoscale.

The aim of this class is to provide essential understanding of the membrane-related nanoscale processes that control key elements of cellular life. Initially we will discuss the effect of membrane characteristics such as composition shape and nanodomain formation, on the dynamics and function of enzymes associated or activated by membranes. Some emphasis will be put on experiments of single molecule activity. We will continue with the mechanisms of membrane-mediated protein trafficking and sorting in cellular compartments and its relation to signaling pathways. Subsequently we will focus on nanoscale lipid assemblies (lipid vesicles) and will discuss the proteins and the mechanisms involved in membrane remodeling during cellular functions such as endocytosis, SNARE mediated fusion and vesicle trafficking. By the end of the class students will be well acquainted with a mechanistic knowledge of multiple membrane-related cellular functions and the latest nanoscale techniques used to characterize them.


BSc Programme in Nanoscience

Learning outcome

The overall goal of this course is to provide a mechanistic understanding of the membrane related nanoscale properties that underlie key element of cellular function. Completing the course the student is expect to have acquired


-       understanding of the properties of real (in vivo) and artificial (made in the lab) membranes

-       -understanding of the interplay between the function of membrane related proteins and membrane properties

-       -mechanistic understanding of cellular functions related to eg endocytosis, protein trafficking and signaling


-       describe the principles and advantages of the state of the art nanoscale techniques to characterize membranes

-       describe the sequence of events underlying membrane related cellular function (eg endocytosis)


-       Predict the role of each protein component on major membrane related cellular functions

-       predict how membrane properties may alter the function or spatial localization of proteins 

Interactive Lectures
articles discussion
Multiple types of Assignments:
1,2. written synopsis of articles
3. oral presentations of articles
4, 5. Two opposing articles where the students, separated in two groups, have to defend their "own article" oraly

PhD students have 3 extra assignments (2 article reviewing 1 review writing)

The Biology, Chemistry and Physics mandatory courses of first and second year of the Nano-Science education, or equivalent.

The course is 7,5 ECTS for bachelor and masters while 10 ECTS for PhD students.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination, 4 h under invigilation
Continuous assessment
4 out of the 5 assignments for bachelor and master students and 7 out of 8 for PHDs is not passed the student can not attend the written exam.

Assignments correspond to 30% of the final grade
The written exam correspond to 70% of the final grade
Only certain aids allowed

Students are allowed to write with pencil on the exam sheet.
Students are allowed to use their laptops
Students are NOT allowed to access internet
Students are allowed to use scientific calculators
Students are allowed to use books or printed pages

NB: If the exam is held at the ITX, the ITX will provide computers. Private computer, tablet or mobile phone CANNOT be brought along to the exam. Books and notes should be brought on paper or saved on a USB key.

Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
several internal examiners
Criteria for exam assessment

See learning outcomes

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 36
  • Theory exercises
  • 18
  • Preparation
  • 148
  • Exam
  • 4
  • English
  • 206