Membrane proteins, lipids and detergents: not just a soap opera

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2004 Nov 3;1666(1-2):105-17. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2004.04.011.


Studying membrane proteins represents a major challenge in protein biochemistry, with one of the major difficulties being the problems encountered when working outside the natural lipid environment. In vitro studies such as crystallization are reliant on the successful solubilization or reconstitution of membrane proteins, which generally involves the careful selection of solubilizing detergents and mixed lipid/detergent systems. This review will concentrate on the methods currently available for efficient reconstitution and solubilization of membrane proteins through the use of detergent micelles, mixed lipid/detergent micelles and bicelles or liposomes. We focus on the relevant molecular properties of the detergents and lipids that aid understanding of these processes. A significant barrier to membrane protein research is retaining the stability and function of the protein during solubilization, reconstitution and crystallization. We highlight some of the lessons learnt from studies of membrane protein folding in vitro and give an overview of the role that lipids can play in stabilizing the proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Crystallization
  • Detergents / chemistry*
  • Liposomes
  • Membrane Lipids / chemistry*
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / isolation & purification*


  • Detergents
  • Liposomes
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Membrane Proteins