Caveolae are abundant flask-shaped invaginations of plasma membranes that buffer membrane tension through their deformation. Few quantitative studies on the deformation of caveolae have been reported. Each caveola contains approximately 150 caveolin-1 proteins. In this study, we estimated the extent of caveolar deformation by measuring the density of caveolin-1 projected onto a two-dimensional (2D) plane. The caveolin-1 in a flattened caveola is assumed to have approximately one-quarter of the density of the caveolin-1 in a flask-shaped caveola. The proportion of one-quarter-density caveolin-1 increased after increasing the tension of the plasma membrane through hypo-osmotic treatment. The one-quarter-density caveolin-1 was soluble in detergent and formed a continuous population with the caveolin-1 in the caveolae of cells under isotonic culture. The distinct, dispersed lower-density caveolin-1 was soluble in detergent and increased after the application of tension, suggesting that the hypo-osmotic tension induced the dispersion of caveolin-1 from the caveolae, possibly through flattened caveolar intermediates.
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