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Membrane Lipid Composition and Cellular Function

In this membrane lipid composition and cellular function post we have briefly explained Glycerol‐based lipids, Cholesterol, Sphingolipids, structure, and functions of membrane lipid.

Proteins and carbohydrates can be connected or covalently bonded to a lipid bilayer in biological membranes. Membrane lipids are lipids that are involved in the structure of biological membranes, such as cell membranes and intracellular membranes, as well as membrane function, such as biological process compartmentalization.

Membrane lipids are largely composed of phospholipids, glycolipids, and cholesterol, which can be ordered into bilayers and integrated with integral and peripheral membrane proteins to form functional membranes.

Individual lipid molecules can diffuse fast inside their own monolayer, making this lipid bilayer fluid. Membrane lipid molecules are amphipathic and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The phospholipids, on the other hand, are the most numerous.

When submerged in water, they spontaneously form bilayers that form sealed compartments that reseal when separated. The inner and outer monolayers have varied lipid compositions, reflecting the different roles of the two faces of a cell membrane. Membranes of diverse types of cells, as well as the numerous membranes of a single eukaryotic cell, contain distinct lipid mixes.

Membrane Lipid Composition and Cellular Function

Membranes are made up of a matrix of lipids with a complex structure and content. Bacterial plasma membranes are typically made up of a single kind of phospholipid and do not contain cholesterol; their mechanical stability is improved by an overlaying cell wall.

Most eukaryotic cells’ plasma membranes, on the other hand, are more diversified, holding not just huge levels of cholesterol but also a combination of various phospholipids. In the plasma membrane of a cell, there might be over 1000 distinct lipid molecules. Membrane lipids are divided into three categories:

membrane lipids

Membrane Lipid Composition and Cellular Function

Glycerol‐based lipids

Glycerol-based lipids are classified into two groups: glycosylglycerides and phospholipids.

a. Glycosylglycerides

Glycosylglycerides are a complicated lipid family in which the glycerol backbone’s sn3 position is esterified to a glycosyl moiety (e.g. galactose, glucose, etc.). They are the most prevalent glycerolipids in membranes.

b. Phospholipids

While the sn-1 and sn-2 locations of phospholipids are esterified to fatty acids, the sn-3 position is esterified to a phosphate group, which is then esterified to a polar head group. Despite the fact that the fatty acid moiety has a significant impact on their physicochemical properties, these phospholipids are often classed based on their polar head group.

Phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylserine, and sphingomyelin are the four primary phospholipids found in the plasma membrane of many mammalian cells. Other phospholipids, such as inositol phospholipids, are present in lesser amounts but play a crucial functional role. For example, inositol phospholipids play an important role in cell signalling.


The hydroxyl group in cholesterol interacts with the phosphate head of phospholipids, whereas the bulky steroid region interacts with the acyl chains of phospholipids. These interactions control membrane fluidity, membrane packing, non-lamellar phase propensity, and microdomain development, among other essential physical features of membranes. Cholesterol is abundant in eukaryotic plasma membranes, with up to one molecule for every phospholipid molecule.


The presence of a sphingoid base backbone characterizes sphingolipids. The amphipathic property of these molecules allows for the creation of an impermeable lipid bilayer, resulting in a highly hydrophobic core and hydrophilic surface, which is the hallmark of biological and model membranes.


In aqueous conditions with a pH and ionic strength similar to biological systems, most phospholipids spontaneously form lipid bilayers. Under physiological or non-physiological conditions, however, some lipids can assemble into non-lamellar structures.

Lipids can show different phases in different situations (lipid mesomorphism), as well as unique finite structures within cell membranes (membrane microdomains). Membranes are made up of molecules that retain some of their distinct features to some extent.

Phospholipids with a bulky polar head, such phosphatidylcholine (PC), have a cylindrical molecular or effective shape, and they tend to form planar structures when they connect with other cylinder like phospholipids. Non-bilayer structures may be formed by other lipids.

Cone‐shaped lipids with bulky polar heads such as lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC), or truncated cone‐shaped lipids with small headgroups such as phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), may form spherical micelles or tubular structures with positive (HI) or negative curvature (HII), respectively.


Membrane proteins have been attributed to the most important roles in membranes, although lipids have also been acknowledged as key elements in numerous processes.

Membrane-spanning (integral, intrinsic) proteins are anchored in the lipid bilayer permanently. Intrinsic membrane proteins are regulated or altered by changes in the lipid environment of membranes. Membrane lipids also regulate and are regulated by peripheral (extrinsic) proteins.

Membrane lipids have dynamic interactions that allow them to vary their relative position in membranes, membrane thickness, surface packing, lateral and rotational mobility, and other features.

Specific lipid head groups are required for the operation of some membrane-bound enzymes. Some lipids’ head groups serve as docking sites for specific cytosolic proteins.

Extracellular signals that operate through membrane receptor proteins activate phospholipases, which cleave certain phospholipid molecules in the plasma membrane, resulting in intracellular signalling pieces.

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