Phase separation in biological membranes: Integration of theory and experiment

Elliot L. Elson, Eliot Fried, John E. Dolbow, Guy M. Genin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

130 Scopus citations

Abstract

Lipid bilayer model membranes that contain a single lipid species can undergo transitions between ordered and disordered phases, and membranes that contain a mixture of lipid species can undergo phase separations. Studies of these transformations are of interest for what they can tell us about the interaction energies of lipid molecules of different species and conformations. Nanoscopic phases (lt200 nm) can provide a model for membrane rafts, specialized membrane domains enriched in cholesterol and sphingomyelin, which are believed to have essential biological functions in cell membranes. Crucial questions are whether lipid nanodomains can exist in stable equilibrium in membranes and what is the distribution of their sizes and lifetimes in membranes of different composition. Theoretical methods have supplied much information on these questions, but better experimental methods are needed to detect and characterize nanodomains under normal membrane conditions. This review summarizes linkages between theoretical and experimental studies of phase separation in lipid bilayer model membranes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-226
Number of pages20
JournalAnnual Review of Biophysics
Volume39
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 9 2010

Keywords

  • Continuum theory
  • Line tension
  • Lipid nanodomains
  • Membrane rafts
  • Monte Carlo simulation
  • Nanoscopic detection

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