Functions of lipid rafts in biological membranes

Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 1998:14:111-36. doi: 10.1146/annurev.cellbio.14.1.111.


Recent studies showing that detergent-resistant membrane fragments can be isolated from cells suggest that biological membranes are not always in a liquid-crystalline phase. Instead, sphingolipid and cholesterol-rich membranes such as plasma membranes appear to exist, at least partially, in the liquid-ordered phase or a phase with similar properties. Sphingolipid and cholesterol-rich domains may exist as phase-separated "rafts" in the membrane. We discuss the relationship between detergent-resistant membranes, rafts, caveolae, and low-density plasma membrane fragments. We also discuss possible functions of lipid rafts in membranes. Signal transduction through the high-affinity receptor for IgE on basophils, and possibly through related receptors on other hematopoietic cells, appears to be enhanced by association with rafts. Raft association may also aid in signaling through proteins anchored by glycosylphosphatidylinositol, particularly in hematopoietic cells and neurons. Rafts may also function in sorting and trafficking through the secretory and endocytic pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / physiology*
  • Cholesterol / chemistry
  • Cholesterol / physiology
  • Endocytosis
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Golgi Apparatus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Membrane Lipids / chemistry
  • Membrane Lipids / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sphingolipids / chemistry
  • Sphingolipids / physiology


  • Membrane Lipids
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Sphingolipids
  • Cholesterol