Lipids in Aqueous Solution: The Formation of the Cell Membrane

  • Peter R. Bergethon


Thus far, we have explored the properties of inorganic aqueous solutions and bulk water. Yet cells and biological systems are not composed of simple, homogeneous solutions or bulk aqueous phases. The organization of biological systems, and certainly eukaryotic cells, depends on compartmentalization of cellular functions. We will explore this important topic in the following chapter. This compartmentalization, which allows varied microenvironments to exist in proximity, is dependent on the membranes that constitute the boundaries of the compartmentalized organelles. Virtually all biological membranes are composed of lipid molecules arranged in bilayers, with inserted or attached protein and carbohydrate molecules playing a variety of roles at or in the lipid phases. Although membranes in cells are made up primarily of hydrophobic lipid elements, they almost always separate into two phases whose predominant species is water. The arrangement of these aqueous-lipidaqueous “phases” leads to a generalized mechanism through which the cell can perform a wide variety of tasks that allow it to sense, judge, and respond to its environment. How can we understand membrane formation? We start by exploring the interactions of water with nonpolar molecules and then focus on certain biophysical and biochemical aspects of lipid membrane formation, from which a more complete description of the cell can eventually emerge.


Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Lipid Molecule Aliphatic Chain Critical Micelle Concen Polar Head Group 
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Further Reading


  1. Israelachvili J. (1992) Intermolecular and Surface Forces, 2d. ed. Academic Press, London.Google Scholar
  2. Kotyk A., Janacek K., and Koryta J. (1988) Biophysical Chemistry of Membrane Functions. John Wiley and Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  3. Nagle J. F. (1980) Theory of the main lipid bilayer phase transition. Ann. Rev. Phys. Chem., 31: 157–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Small D. M. (ed.) (1986) “The Physical Chemistry of Lipids.” In Handbook of Lipid Research, vol. 4. Plenum Press, New York.Google Scholar

Solute-Solvent Interaction

  1. More details on aqueous clathrate structure can be found in the series edited by Franks (see listing under chapter 20) Articles on clathrate organization around biomoleculesGoogle Scholar
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Artificial Membranes

  1. Ostro M. J. (1987) Liposomes. Sci. Am., 256 (1): 102–11.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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Biological Membranes

  1. Gennix R. B. (1989) Biomembranes: Molecular Structure and Function. Springer-Verlag, New York.Google Scholar
  2. Kohlwein S. D. (1992) Biological membranes, function and assembly. J. Chem. Ed., 69: 3–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter R. Bergethon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryBoston University School of MedicineBostonUSA

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