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Membranes: reading between the lines

von Heijne, Gunnar and Rees, Douglas (2008) Membranes: reading between the lines. Current Opinion in Structural Biology, 18 (4). pp. 403-405. ISSN 0959-440X. doi:10.1016/

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Membranes are remarkable entities; only ~40Å thick, they maintain the territorial integrity of a cell or organelle while regulating the flow of matter, information and energy between the interior and the external environment. The lipids and proteins that dominate the composition of membranes exhibit a characteristic architecture in which the lipids adopt a bilayer arrangement penetrated by integral membrane proteins [1]. In the common shorthand representation for this organization, the membrane bilayer is represented by two parallel lines with ellipsoidal membrane proteins embedded in a nonpolar continuum. While this depiction is obviously understood as a cartoon version of reality, it does convey a misleading impression of order in a biological membrane that belies the inherent compositional, structural and dynamic complexities of this system. Even for the simplest case of a bilayer composed of a single lipid type, a sharp interface does not exist between the lipid bilayer and surrounding aqueous solution, but rather there are substantial displacements of headgroups from the average plane, and the aliphatic chains in the bilayer interior are disordered owing to low torsional angle barriers and the steric consequences of cis-double bounds [[2], [3] and [4]]. The associated packing defects even allow polar compounds to penetrate into the membrane interior; as one consequence, water has an appreciable bilayer permeability [5]. The picture that emerges from such studies is that the biologically relevant fluid phase of membranes is highly dynamic, and the time-averaged structure can only be defined probabilistically.

Item Type:Article
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Rees, Douglas0000-0003-4073-1185
Additional Information:© 2008 Elsevier Ltd. Available online 12th August 2008.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)UNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:4
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:HEIcosb08
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:13510
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:11 Aug 2009 17:57
Last Modified:08 Nov 2021 22:38

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