The cold but not hard fats in ectotherms: consequences of lipid restructuring on susceptibility of biological membranes to peroxidation, a review

J Comp Physiol B. 2008 Sep;178(7):795-809. doi: 10.1007/s00360-008-0275-7. Epub 2008 May 28.


The production of reactive oxygen species is a regular feature of life in the presence of oxygen. Some reactive oxygen species possess sufficient energy to initiate lipid peroxidation in biological membranes, self-propagating reactions with the potential to damage membranes by altering their physical properties and ultimately their function. Two of the most prominent patterns of lipid restructuring in membranes of ectotherms involve contents of polyunsaturated fatty acids and ratios of the abundant phospholipids, phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine. Since polyunsaturated fatty acids and phosphatidylethanolamine are particularly vulnerable to oxidation, it is likely that higher contents of these lipids at low body temperature elevate the inherent susceptibility of membranes to lipid peroxidation. Although membranes from animals living at low body temperatures may be more prone to oxidation, the generation of reactive oxygen species and lipid peroxidation are sensitive to temperature. These scenarios raise the possibility that membrane susceptibility to lipid peroxidation is conserved at physiological temperatures. Reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids and phosphatidylethanolamine may protect membranes at warm temperatures from deleterious oxidations when rates of reactive oxygen species production and lipid peroxidation are relatively high. At low temperatures, enhanced susceptibility may ensure sufficient lipid peroxidation for cellular processes that require lipid oxidation products.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Lipid Peroxidation / physiology*
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism*
  • Phospholipids / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species


  • Membrane Lipids
  • Phospholipids
  • Reactive Oxygen Species