Compositional lipid domains (lipid rafts) in plasma membranes are believed to be important components of many cellular processes. The mechanisms by which cells regulate the sizes, lifetimes, and spatial localization of these domains are rather poorly understood at the moment. We propose a robust mechanism for the formation of finite-sized lipid raft domains in plasma membranes, the competition between phase separation in an immiscible lipid system and active cellular lipid transport processes naturally leads to the formation of such domains. Simulations of a continuum model reveal that the raft size distribution is broad and the average raft size is strongly dependent on the rates of cellular and interlayer lipid transport processes. We demonstrate that spatiotemporal variations in the recycling may enable the cell to localize larger raft aggregates at specific parts along the membrane. Moreover, we show that membrane compartmentalization may further facilitate spatial localization of the raft domains. Finally, we demonstrate that local interactions with immobile membrane proteins can spatially localize the rafts and lead to further clustering.
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