Lipid membrane domains in the brain

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2015 Aug;1851(8):1006-16. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2015.02.001. Epub 2015 Feb 10.


The brain is characterized by the presence of cell types with very different functional specialization, but with the common trait of a very high complexity of structures originated by their plasma membranes. Brain cells bear evident membrane polarization with the creation of different morphological and functional subcompartments, whose formation, stabilization and function require a very high level of lateral order within the membrane. In other words, the membrane specialization of brain cells implies the presence of distinct membrane domains. The brain is the organ with the highest enrichment in lipids like cholesterol, glycosphingolipids, and the most recently discovered brain membrane lipid, phosphatidylglucoside, whose collective behavior strongly favors segregation within the membrane leading to the formation of lipid-driven membrane domains. Lipid-driven membrane domains function as dynamic platforms for signal transduction, protein processing, and membrane turnover. Essential events involved in the development and in the maintenance of the functional integrity of the brain depend on the organization of lipid-driven membrane domains, and alterations in lipid homeostasis, leading to deranged lipid-driven membrane organization, are common in several major brain diseases. In this review, we summarize the forces behind the formation of lipid membrane domains and their biological roles in different brain cells. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Brain Lipids.

Keywords: Cholesterol; Ganglioside; Lipid membrane domain; Lipid raft; Liquid-ordered phase; Sphingolipid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / cytology
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Brain Diseases, Metabolic / genetics
  • Brain Diseases, Metabolic / metabolism*
  • Brain Diseases, Metabolic / pathology
  • Cholesterol / chemistry
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Glycerophospholipids / chemistry
  • Glycerophospholipids / metabolism*
  • Glycosphingolipids / chemistry
  • Glycosphingolipids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Microdomains / chemistry
  • Membrane Microdomains / metabolism*
  • Myelin Sheath / chemistry
  • Myelin Sheath / metabolism
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission


  • Glycerophospholipids
  • Glycosphingolipids
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • phosphatidylglucose
  • Cholesterol