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Prog Lipid Res. 2005 Sep;44(5):303-44. Epub 2005 Sep 16.

The significance of lipid composition for membrane activity: new concepts and ways of assessing function.

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  • 1Institute of Biochemistry, Biological Research Center, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, H-6726 Szeged, Hungary.


In the last decade or so, it has been realised that membranes do not just have a lipid-bilayer structure in which proteins are embedded or with which they associate. Structures are dynamic and contain areas of heterogeneity which are vital for their formation. In this review, we discuss some of the ways in which these dynamic and heterogeneous structures have implications during stress and in relation to certain human diseases. A particular stress is that of temperature which may instigate adaptation in poikilotherms or appropriate defensive responses during fever in mammals. Recent data emphasise the role of membranes in sensing temperature changes and in controlling a regulatory loop with chaperone proteins. This loop seems to need the existence of specific membrane microdomains and also includes association of chaperone (heat stress) proteins with the membrane. The role of microdomains is then discussed further in relation to various human pathologies such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. The concept of modifying membrane lipids (lipid therapy) as a means for treating such pathologies is then introduced. Examples are given when such methods have been shown to have benefit. In order to study membrane microheterogeneity in detail and to elucidate possible molecular mechanisms that account for alteration in membrane function, new methods are needed. In the second part of the review, we discuss ultra-sensitive and ultra-resolution imaging techniques. These include atomic force microscopy, single particle tracking, single particle tracing and various modern fluorescence methods. Finally, we deal with computing simulation of membrane systems. Such methods include coarse-grain techniques and Monte Carlo which offer further advances into molecular dynamics. As computational methods advance they will have more application by revealing the very subtle interactions that take place between the lipid and protein components of membranes - and which are so essential to their function.

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