Cellular Membranes are Fluid Mosaics of Lipids and Proteins


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Phospholipid bilayer
Source: Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology (p. 127). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

Cellular Membranes are Fluid Mosaics of Lipids and Proteins (Campbell Biology)

Lipids and proteins are the staple ingredients of membranes, although carbohydrates are also important. The most abundant lipids in most membranes are phospholipids. The ability of phospholipids to form membranes is inherent in their molecular structure. A phospholipid is an amphipathic molecule, meaning it has both a hydrophilic (“water-loving”) region and a hydrophobic (“water-fearing”) region. Other types of membrane lipids are also amphipathic. A phospholipid bilayer can exist as a stable boundary between two aqueous compartments because the molecular arrangement shelters the hydrophobic tails of the phospholipids from water while exposing the hydrophilic heads to water.

Like membrane lipids, most membrane proteins are amphipathic. Such proteins can reside in the phospholipid bilayer with their hydrophilic regions protruding. This molecular orientation maximizes contact of hydrophilic regions of proteins with water in the cytosol and extracellular fluid, while providing their hydrophobic parts with a nonaqueous environment. The membrane is a mosaic of protein molecules bobbing in a fluid bilayer of phospholipids.

The proteins are not randomly distributed in the membrane, however. Groups of proteins are often associated in long-lasting, specialized patches, where they carry out common functions. Researchers have found specific lipids in these patches as well and have proposed naming them lipid rafts, but there is ongoing controversy about whether such structures exist in living cells or are an artifact of biochemical techniques. Like all models, the fluid mosaic model is continually being refined as new research reveals more about membrane structure.


Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology. Pearson Education. Kindle Edition. https://www.pearson.com/us/higher-education/series/Campbell-Biology-Series/2244849.html


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