Mechanics of Lipid Bilayer Membranes

  • Thomas R. Powers


All cells have membranes. The plasma membrane encapsulates the cell’s interior, acting as a barrier against the outside world. In cells with nuclei (eukaryotic cells), membranes also form internal compartments (organelles) which carry out specialized tasks, such as protein modification and sorting in the case of the Golgi apparatus, and ATP production in the case of mitochondria. The main components of membranes are lipids and proteins. The proteins can be channels, carriers, receptors, catalysts, signaling molecules, or structural elements, and typically contribute a substantial fraction of the total membrane dry weight. The equilibrium properties of pure lipid membranes are relatively well-understood, and will be the main focus of this article. The framework of elasticity theory and statistical mechanics that we will develop will serve as the foundation for understanding biological phenomena such as the nonequilibrium behavior of membranes laden with ion pumps, the role of membrane elasticity in ion channel gating, and the dynamics of vesicle fission and fusion. Understanding the mechanics of lipid membranes is also important for drug encapsulation and delivery.


Minimal Model Lipid Molecule Lipid Bilayer Membrane Bilayer Structure Suction Pressure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. [1]
    J. Israelachvili, Intermolecular and Surface Forces, 2nd edn. Academic Press, London, 1992.Google Scholar
  2. [2]
    U. Seifert, Configurations of fluid membranes and vesicles, Adv. Phys., 46, 13, 1997.CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  3. [3]
    D. Boal, Mechanics of the Cell, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002.Google Scholar
  4. [4]
    R. Kamien, “The geometry of soft materials: a primer”, Rev. Mod. Phys., 74, 953, 2002.CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  5. [5]
    P. Canham, “The minimum energy of bending as a possible explanation of the biconcave shape of the human red blood cell”, J. Theor. Biol., 26, 61, 1970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. [6]
    W. Helfrich, “Elastic properties of lipid bilayers: theory and possible experiments”, Z. Naturforsh, 28c, 693, 1973.Google Scholar
  7. [7]
    P. Chaikin and T. Lubensky, Principles of Condensed Matter Physics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995.Google Scholar
  8. [8]
    H.-G. Döbereiner, E. Evans, M. Kraus, U. Seifert, and M. Wortis, “Mapping vesicle shapes into the phase diagram: a comparison of experiment and theory”, Phys. Rev. E, 55, 4458, 1997.CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  9. [9]
    E. Evans and W. Rawicz, “Entropy-driven tension and bending elasticity in condensed-fluid membranes”, Phys. Rev. Lett., 64, 2094, 1990.CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  10. [10]
    W. Helfrich and R.-M. Servuss, “Undulations, steric interaction and cohesion of fluid membranes”, Nuovo Cimento, D3, 137, 1984.CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  11. [11]
    S. Ramaswamy and M. Rao, “The physics of active membranes”, C.R. Acad. Sci. TV Paris, 2, 817, 2001.Google Scholar
  12. [12]
    F. Brochard and J. Lennon, “Frequency spectrum of the flicker phenomenon in erythrocytes”, J. Phys. (Paris), 36, 1035, 1975.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. [13]
    S. Tuvia, A. Almagor, A. Bitler, S. Levin, R. Korenstein, and S. Yedgar, “Cell membrane fluctuations are regulated by medium viscosity: evidence for a metabolic driving force”, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 94, 5045, 1997.CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  14. [14]
    J.-B. Manneville, P. Bassereau, S. Ramaswamy, and J. Prost, “Active membrane fluctuations studied by micopipet aspiration”, Phys. Rev., E64, 021908, 2001.ADSGoogle Scholar
  15. [15]
    J. Rayleigh, The Theory of Sound, vol. I, 2nd edn. Dover Publications, New York, 1945.MATHGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas R. Powers
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of EngineeringBrown UniversityRIUSA

Personalised recommendations