Biomembrane liquid-liquid phase separation and detergent resistance: a relationship strengthened

Biochem J. 2009 Nov 11;424(2):e5-6. doi: 10.1042/BJ20091623.


Since evidence first appeared for 'detergent-resistant membranes' in the early to mid-1990s, cell biologists from a wide spectrum of biological sciences have been intrigued by the functional relevance of this indication of membrane heterogeneity, commonly referred to as 'lipid rafts'. Model membrane studies revealed that these lipid rafts are related to the more ordered liquid phase that forms in a ternary mixture of cholesterol with a phospholipid containing saturated acyl chains and one with unsaturated acyl chains. Giant plasma membrane vesicles that pinch off from cells undergo similar liquid-liquid phase separation as ternary model membranes, and have provided an experimental bridge between these and intact cells. The study by Levental et al. in this issue of the Biochemical Journal provides new insights into the relationship between liquid-liquid phase separation in these plasma membrane vesicles and detergent-resistance of cellular lipid rafts.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Fractionation / methods*
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Detergents / chemistry*


  • Detergents