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Annu Rev Biophys Biomol Struct. 2003;32:469-92. Epub 2003 Jan 31.

Liquid-liquid immiscibility in membranes.

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Department of Chemistry, Biophysics Program, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-5080, USA.


The observation of liquid-liquid immiscibility in cholesterol-phospholipid mixtures in monolayers and bilayers has opened a broad field of research into their physical chemistry. Some mixtures exhibit multiple immiscibilities. This unusual property has led to a thermodynamic model of "condensed complexes." These complexes are the consequence of an exothermic, reversible reaction between cholesterol and phospholipids. In this quantitative model the complexes are sometimes concentrated in a separate liquid phase. The phase separation into a complex-rich phase depends on membrane composition and intensive variables such as temperature. The properties of defined cholesterol-phospholipid mixtures provide a conceptual foundation for the exploration of a number of aspects of the biophysics and biochemistry of animal cell membranes.

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