The plasma membrane is a ∼4 nm thick phospholipid bilayer that defines the boundary of a cell, segregating internal content from the external environment. Its hydrophobic interior presents a barrier to the exchange of ions and polar solutes between the inside and outside of the cell, as well as to the spontaneous reorientation of lipids between the two leaflets of the bilayer. Specific transport systems, e.g. ion channels and lipid flippases, are needed to enable the passage of these molecules across the plasma membrane at physiologically relevant rates. Although the influential fluid mosaic membrane model of 1972 depicted the membrane as an archipelago of protein islands within a uniform sea of lipids, its micrometer-scale lateral heterogeneity was recognized relatively quickly, evolving into the current picture of structural granularity at the nanoscale.
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