Introduction to Membrane Lipids
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Biological membranes are composed largely of lipids and proteins. The most common arrangement of lipids in biological membranes is as a bilayer. This arrangement spontaneously forms a barrier for the passage of polar materials. The bilayer is thin but can have a large area in the dimension perpendicular to its thickness. The physical nature of the bilayer membrane will vary according to the conditions of the environment as well as the chemical structure of the lipid constituents of the bilayer. These physical properties determine the function of the membrane together with specific structural features of the lipids that allow them to have signaling properties. The lipids of the membrane are not uniformly distributed. There is an intrinsic asymmetry between the two monolayers that constitute the bilayer. In addition, some lipids tend to be enriched in particular regions of the membrane, termed domains. There is evidence that certain domains recruit specific proteins into that domain. This has been suggested to be important for allowing interaction among different proteins involved in certain signal transduction pathways. Membrane lipids have important roles in determining the physical properties of the membrane, in modulating the activity of membrane-bound proteins and in certain cases being specific secondary messengers that can interact with specific proteins. A large variety of lipids present in biological membranes result in them possessing many functions.
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