Bleb (cell biology)

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The process of apoptosis, with blebbing shown in the middle illustration

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


In cell biology, a bleb is an irregular bulge in the plasma membrane of a cell caused by localized decoupling of the cytoskeleton from the plasma membrane (recently reviewed in [1]). Blebbing is the term used to describe the formation of blebs.

Physiological Functions

During apoptosis (programmed cell death), the cell's cytoskeleton breaks up and causes the membrane to bulge outward (reviewed in [2]). These bulges may separate from the cell, taking a portion of cytoplasm with them, to become known as apoptotic bodies. Phagocytic cells eventually consume these fragments and the components are recycled (see figure).

Blebbing also has important functions in other cellular processes, including cell locomotion, cell division, and physical or chemical stresses. The types of blebs vary greatly, including variations in bleb growth rates, size, contents, and actin content.


A chemical known as blebbistatin (Sigma Aldrich) was recently shown to inhibit the formation of blebs. This agent was discovered in a screen for small molecule inhibitors of nonmuscle myosin IIA and was shown to lower the affinity of myosin with actin [3][4], thus altering the contractile forces that impinge on the cytoskeleton-membrane interface.


  1. Fackler OT, Grosse R (2008). "Cell motility through plasma membrane blebbing". J Cell Biol. 181 (6): 879–84. doi:10.1083/jcb.200802081. PMID 18541702. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  2. Vermeulen K, Van Bockstaele DR, Berneman ZN (2005). "Apoptosis: mechanisms and relevance in cancer". Ann Hematol. 84 (10): 627–39. doi:10.1007/s00277-005-1065-x. PMID 16041532. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  3. Kovács M, Tóth J, Hetényi C, Málnási-Csizmadia A, Sellers JR (2004). "Mechanism of blebbistatin inhibition of myosin II". J Biol Chem. 279 (34): 35557–63. doi:10.1074/jbc.M405319200. PMID 15205456. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  4. Limouze J, Straight AF, Mitchison T, Sellers JR (2004). "Specificity of blebbistatin, an inhibitor of myosin II". J Muscle Res Cell Motil. 25 (4–5): 337–41. doi:10.1007/s10974-004-6060-7. PMID 15548862.

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