NMR structures of membrane proteins in phospholipid bilayers

Q Rev Biophys. 2014 Aug;47(3):249-83. doi: 10.1017/S0033583514000080. Epub 2014 Jul 17.


Membrane proteins have always presented technical challenges for structural studies because of their requirement for a lipid environment. Multiple approaches exist including X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy that can give significant insights into their structure and function. However, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is unique in that it offers the possibility of determining the structures of unmodified membrane proteins in their native environment of phospholipid bilayers under physiological conditions. Furthermore, NMR enables the characterization of the structure and dynamics of backbone and side chain sites of the proteins alone and in complexes with both small molecules and other biopolymers. The learning curve has been steep for the field as most initial studies were performed under non-native environments using modified proteins until ultimately progress in both techniques and instrumentation led to the possibility of examining unmodified membrane proteins in phospholipid bilayers under physiological conditions. This review aims to provide an overview of the development and application of NMR to membrane proteins. It highlights some of the most significant structural milestones that have been reached by NMR spectroscopy of membrane proteins, especially those accomplished with the proteins in phospholipid bilayer environments where they function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry*
  • Lipid Bilayers / metabolism
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Phospholipids*


  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Phospholipids