Regulatory Mechanisms of Transmembrane Phospholipid Distributions and Pathophysiological Implications of Transbilayer Lipid Scrambling

Lupus. 1998;7 Suppl 2:S126-31. doi: 10.1177/096120339800700228.


The various phospholipid classes that comprise mammalian cell membranes are distributed over both leaflets of the bilayer in a non-random fashion. While a specific and ATP-dependent transporter is responsible for rapid inward movement of aminophospholipids, its inhibition does not lead to spontaneous redistribution of lipids. Conditions of cellular activation which are accompanied with increased levels of intracellular Ca2+ may cause a collapse of lipid asymmetry by switching on an ATP-independently operating scramblase, which accelerates bidirectional movement of all phospholipid classes. The most prominent change in transmembrane lipid distribution is surface exposure of phosphatidylserine (PS), the more so since conditions which activate scramblase in most if not all cases lead to inhibition of aminophospholipid translocase activity, which will prevent PS from being pumped back to the inner leaflet of the membrane. Surface-exposed PS serves at least two important physiological functions: it promotes blood coagulation and offers a recognition signal for clearance by macrophages and other cells of the reticuloendothelial system. As such, PS exposure may form an important early event in the process of apoptosis to ensure rapid removal of these cells in order to avoid release of their inflammatory contents. Defective regulation of transbilayer lipid distribution may result in clinical manifestations such as in the Scott syndrome, a bleeding disorder caused by an impaired scramblase activity. Conversely, excessive PS exposure may lead to thrombosis or may explain formation of so-called antiphospholipid antibodies as occurring in patients with antiphospholipid syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anions
  • Antibodies, Antiphospholipid / immunology
  • Antibodies, Antiphospholipid / metabolism
  • Antiphospholipid Syndrome / blood
  • Antiphospholipid Syndrome / immunology
  • Apoptosis
  • Autoimmune Diseases / blood
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Blood Coagulation
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mononuclear Phagocyte System / physiology
  • Phosphatidylserines / metabolism
  • Phospholipid Transfer Proteins*
  • Phospholipids / metabolism*


  • Anions
  • Antibodies, Antiphospholipid
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Phospholipid Transfer Proteins
  • Phospholipids