Amphitropic proteins: regulation by reversible membrane interactions (review)

Mol Membr Biol. Jul-Sep 1999;16(3):217-35. doi: 10.1080/096876899294544.


What do Src kinase, Ras-guanine nucleotide exchange factor, cytidylyltransferase, protein kinase C, phospholipase C, vinculin, and DnaA protein have in common? These proteins are amphitropic, that is, they bind weakly (reversibly) to membrane lipids, and this process regulates their function. Proteins functioning in transduction of signals generated in cell membranes are commonly regulated by amphitropism. In this review, the strategies utilized by amphitropic proteins to bind to membranes and to regulate their membrane affinity are described. The recently solved structures of binding pockets for specific lipids are described, as well as the amphipathic alpha-helix motif. Regulatory switches that control membrane affinity include modulation of the membrane lipid composition, and modification of the protein itself by ligand binding, phosphorylation, or acylation. How does membrane binding modulate the protein's function? Two mechanisms are discussed: (1) localization with the substrate, activator, or downstream target, and (2) activation of the protein by a conformational switch. This paper also addresses the issue of specificity in the cell membrane targetted for binding.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / classification
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Signal Transduction


  • Membrane Lipids
  • Membrane Proteins