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Margaret Mead
Review Article

Effects of macromolecular crowding on intracellular diffusion from a single particle perspective


Compared to biochemical reactions taking place in relatively well-defined aqueous solutions in vitro, the corresponding reactions happening in vivo occur in extremely complex environments containing only 60–70% water by volume, with the remainder consisting of an undefined array of bio-molecules. In a biological setting, such extremely complex and volume-occupied solution environments are termed ‘crowded’. Through a range of intermolecular forces and pseudo-forces, this complex background environment may cause biochemical reactions to behave differently to their in vitro counterparts. In this review, we seek to highlight how the complex background environment of the cell can affect the diffusion of substances within it. Engaging the subject from the perspective of a single particle’s motion, we place the focus of our review on two areas: (1) experimental procedures for conducting single particle tracking experiments within cells along with methods for extracting information from these experiments; (2) theoretical factors affecting the translational diffusion of single molecules within crowded two-dimensional membrane and three-dimensional solution environments. We conclude by discussing a number of recent publications relating to intracellular diffusion in light of the reviewed material.