The plasma membrane, a phospholipid bilayer in which cholesterol and protein molecules are embedded. The bottom layer, which faces the cytoplasm, has a slightly different phospholipid composition from that of the top layer, which faces the external medium. While phospholipid molecules can readily exchange laterally within their own layer, random exchange across the bilayer is rare. Both globular and helical kinds of protein traverse the bilayer. Cholesterol molecules tend to keep the tails of the phospholipids relatively fixed and orderly in the regions closest to the hydrophilic heads; the parts of the tails closer to the core of the membrane move about freely. This model is not believed to apply to blood or lymph capillaries. (Reprinted with permission from Bretscher MS. The molecules of the cell membrane. Sci Am 1985;253:104. Copyright 1985 by Scientific American, Inc. All rights reserved.)
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