Membrane Structure

One frequently addressed role of phospholipids is to maintain an appropriate membrane structure for optimal cell function. The term 'membrane fluidity' is often used but is imprecise. It generally describes the combined effects of lateral and rotational movement of lipids within the plane of the membrane. Other concepts are perhaps more useful, such as the stress, termed 'stored elastic energy,' when phospho-lipids are prevented by their location within the membrane from assuming their lowest energy configuration. Typically, phospholipids such as PC prefer to adopt a convex membrane curvature, whereas molecules such as PE and PA will spontaneously adopt a concave configuration. In these paradigms, alterations to dietary lipid intake may exert their modulatory effect on cell function by changing phospholipid molecular composition and hence altering these physiochemical properties. Although such effects are evident in model systems, extensive measurement by fluorescence polarization suggests that processes of homeoviscous adaptation restrict the extent of adaptations observed in vivo. For instance, increased incorporation of PUFA into membrane phospholipid, which would be expected to have a fluidizing effect, is invariably balanced by compensatory increases in the membrane content of cholesterol and more rigid phospholipid molecules.

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