Roles of specific lipid species in the cell and their molecular mechanism

Prog Lipid Res. 2016 Apr;62:75-92. doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2016.02.001. Epub 2016 Feb 11.


Thousands of different molecular species of lipids are present within a single cell, being involved in modulating the basic processes of life. The vast number of different lipid species can be organized into a number of different lipid classes, which may be defined as a group of lipids with a common chemical structure, such as the headgroup, apart from the nature of the hydrocarbon chains. Each lipid class has unique biological roles. In some cases, a relatively small change in the headgroup chemical structure can result in a drastic change in function. Such phenomena are well documented, and largely understood in terms of specific interactions with proteins. In contrast, there are observations that the entire structural specificity of a lipid molecule, including the hydrocarbon chains, is required for biological activity through specific interactions with membrane proteins. Understanding of these phenomena represents a fundamental change in our thinking of the functions of lipids in biology. There are an increasing number of diverse examples of roles for specific lipids in cellular processes including: Signal transduction; trafficking; morphological changes; cell division. We are gaining knowledge and understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms. They are of growing importance in both basic and applied sciences.

Keywords: Cardiolipin; Phosphatidylglycerol; Phosphatidylinositol; Plasma(e)nyl glycerophospholipids; Specific lipid species; Specific lipid–protein interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry*
  • Lipid Bilayers / classification
  • Lipid Bilayers / metabolism*
  • Membrane Lipids / chemistry
  • Membrane Lipids / classification
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Protein Transport
  • Signal Transduction


  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Membrane Proteins