Lipid Rafts: Buffers of Cell Membrane Physical Properties
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Lateral organization of lipids in the cell membrane appears to be an ancient feature of the cell, given the existence of lipid rafts in both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. Currently seen as platforms for protein partitioning, we posit that lipid rafts are capable of playing another role: stabilizing membrane physical properties over varying temperatures and other environmental conditions. Membrane composition defines the mechanical and viscous properties of the bilayer. The composition also varies strongly with temperature, with systematic changes in the partitioning of high and low melting temperature membrane components. In this way, rafts function as buffers of membrane physical properties, progressively counteracting environmental changes via compositional changes; i.e., more high melting lipids partition to the fluid phase with increasing temperature, increasing the bending modulus and viscosity, as thermal effects decrease these same properties. To provide an example of this phenomenon, we have performed neutron scattering experiments and atomistic molecular dynamics simulations on a phase separated model membrane. The results demonstrate a buffering effect in both the lateral diffusion coefficient and the bending modulus of the fluid phase upon changing temperature. This demonstration highlights the potentially advantageous stabilizing effect of complex lipid compositions in response to temperature and potentially other membrane destabilizing environmental conditions.
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