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J R Soc Interface. 2010 Mar 6;7(44):373-95. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2009.0443. Epub 2009 Nov 25.

Lipid bilayer regulation of membrane protein function: gramicidin channels as molecular force probes.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, NY 10065, USA.


Membrane protein function is regulated by the host lipid bilayer composition. This regulation may depend on specific chemical interactions between proteins and individual molecules in the bilayer, as well as on non-specific interactions between proteins and the bilayer behaving as a physical entity with collective physical properties (e.g. thickness, intrinsic monolayer curvature or elastic moduli). Studies in physico-chemical model systems have demonstrated that changes in bilayer physical properties can regulate membrane protein function by altering the energetic cost of the bilayer deformation associated with a protein conformational change. This type of regulation is well characterized, and its mechanistic elucidation is an interdisciplinary field bordering on physics, chemistry and biology. Changes in lipid composition that alter bilayer physical properties (including cholesterol, polyunsaturated fatty acids, other lipid metabolites and amphiphiles) regulate a wide range of membrane proteins in a seemingly non-specific manner. The commonality of the changes in protein function suggests an underlying physical mechanism, and recent studies show that at least some of the changes are caused by altered bilayer physical properties. This advance is because of the introduction of new tools for studying lipid bilayer regulation of protein function. The present review provides an introduction to the regulation of membrane protein function by the bilayer physical properties. We further describe the use of gramicidin channels as molecular force probes for studying this mechanism, with a unique ability to discriminate between consequences of changes in monolayer curvature and bilayer elastic moduli.

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