because of extensive hydrogen bonding by the free —OH group in the sphingosine moiety (see Figure 5-5).
The ability of lipids to diffuse laterally in a bilayer indicates that it can act as a fluid. The degree of bilayer fluidity depends on the lipid composition, structure of the phospholipid hy-drophobic tails, and temperature. As already noted, van der Waals interactions and the hydrophobic effect cause the nonpolar tails of phospholipids to aggregate. Long, saturated fatty acyl chains have the greatest tendency to aggregate, packing tightly together into a gel-like state. Phospholipids with short fatty acyl chains, which have less surface area for interaction, form more fluid bilayers. Likewise, the kinks in unsaturated fatty acyl chains result in their forming less stable van der Waals interactions with other lipids than do saturated chains and hence more fluid bilayers. When a highly ordered, gel-like bilayer is heated, the increased molecular motions of the fatty acyl tails cause it to undergo a transition to a more fluid, disordered state (Figure 5-7).
At usual physiologic temperatures, the hydrophobic interior of natural membranes generally has a low viscosity and a fluidlike, rather than gel-like, consistency. Cholesterol is important in maintaining the fluidity of natural membranes, which appears to be essential for normal cell growth and reproduction. As noted previously, cholesterol cannot form a sheetlike bilayer on its own. At concentrations found in natural membranes, cholesterol is interca-
▲ FIGURE 5-7 Gel and fluid forms of the phospholipid bilayer. (Top) Depiction of gel-to-fluid transition. Phospholipids with long saturated fatty acyl chains tend to assemble into a highly ordered, gel-like bilayer in which there is little overlap of the nonpolar tails in the two leaflets. Heat disorders the nonpolar tails and induces a transition from a gel to a fluid within a temperature range of only a few degrees. As the chains become disordered, the bilayer also decreases in thickness. (Bottom) Molecular models of phospholipid monolayers in gel and fluid states, as determined by molecular dynamics calculations. [Bottom based on H. Heller et al., 1993, J. Phys. Chem. 97:8343.]
▲ FIGURE 5-8 Effect of lipid composition on bilayer thickness and curvature. (a) A pure sphingomyelin (SM) bilayer is thicker than one formed from a phosphoglyceride such as phosphatidylcholine (PC). Cholesterol has a lipid-ordering effect on phosphoglyceride bilayers that increases their thickness but does not affect the thickness of the more ordered SM bilayer. (b) Phospholipids such as PC have a cylindrical shape and form more or less flat monolayers, whereas those with smaller head groups such as phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) have a conical shape. (c) A bilayer enriched with PC in the exoplasmic leaflet and with PE in the cytosolic face, as in many plasma membranes, would have a natural curvature. [Adapted from H. Sprong et al., 2001, Nature Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 2:504.]
lated (inserted) among phospholipids. Cholesterol restricts the random movement of phospholipid head groups at the outer surfaces of the leaflets, but its effect on the movement of long phospholipid tails depends on concentration. At the usual cholesterol concentrations, the interaction of the steroid ring with the long hydrophobic tails of phospho-lipids tends to immobilize these lipids and thus decrease biomembrane fluidity. At lower cholesterol concentrations, however, the steroid ring separates and disperses phospho-lipid tails, causing the inner regions of the membrane to become slightly more fluid.
The lipid composition of a bilayer also influences its thickness, which in turn may play a role in localizing proteins to a particular membrane. The results of studies on artificial membranes demonstrate that sphingomyelin associates into a
more gel-like and thicker bilayer than phospholipids do (Figure 5-8a). Similarly, cholesterol and other molecules that decrease membrane fluidity increase membrane thickness. Because sphingomyelin tails are already optimally stabilized, the addition of cholesterol has no effect on the thickness of a sphingomyelin bilayer.
Another property dependent on the lipid composition of a bilayer is its local curvature, which depends on the relative sizes of the polar head groups and nonpolar tails of its constituent phospholipids. Lipids with long tails and large head groups are cylindrical in shape; those with small head groups are cone shaped (Figure 5-8b). As a result, bi-layers composed of cylindrical lipids are relatively flat, whereas those containing large amounts of cone-shaped lipids form curved bilayers (Figure 5-8c). This effect of lipid composition on bilayer curvature may play a role in the formation of highly curved membrane pits and blebs, internal membrane vesicles, and specialized membrane structures such as microvilli.
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