A glance at the structural and functional diversity of membrane lipids

Methods Mol Biol. 2007;400:1-13. doi: 10.1007/978-1-59745-519-0_1.


In the postgenomic era, spatially and temporally regulated molecular interactions as signals are beginning to take center stage in the understanding of fundamental biological events. For years, reductionism derived from the "fluid mosaic" model of the cell membrane has portrayed membrane lipids as rather passive molecules that, whereas separating biologically relevant aqueous phases, provided an environment so that membrane proteins could fulfill the specificity and selectivity required for proper cell signaling. Whereas these roles for membrane lipids still stand, the structural diversity of lipids and their complex arrangement in supramolecular assemblies have expanded such limited, although fundamental roles. Growing developments in the field of membrane lipids help to understand biological phenomena at the nanoscale domain, and reveal this heterogeneous group of organic compounds as a long underestimated group of key regulatory molecules. In this introductory chapter, brief overviews of the structural diversity of membrane lipids, the impact of different lipids on membrane properties, the vertical organization of lipids into rafts and caveolae, and the functional role of lipids as mediators of inter- and intracellular signals are provided. Any comprehensive review on membrane lipids, whether emphasizing structural or functional aspects, will require several volumes. The purpose of this chapter is to provide both introduction and rationale for the selection of topics that lie ahead in this book. For this reason, the list of references primarily includes reviews on particular issues dealing with membrane lipids wherein the reader can find further references.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caveolae / chemistry*
  • Caveolae / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Lipids / chemistry*
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Membrane Lipids