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J Lipid Res. 1984 Dec 15;25(13):1490-500.

Lateral chain packing in lipids and membranes.


The aliphatic chains of many biologically important lipids are heterogeneous and often related to the functions of the molecules. Certain phospholipids containing arachidonic acid may serve as precursors for prostaglandins, certain diglycerides may serve as second messengers for certain membrane-triggered reactions (43), and other phospholipids containing a very short chain in the two position may serve as vasoactive hormones (44). The packing of such molecules is of interest. The evidence is quite clear from both the conformation of saturated and unsaturated molecules and from mixing experiments in the solid state that long and short chains don't mix well, nor do unsaturated and saturated chains, even if they are of the same chain length. There is even some evidence to indicate that some degree of chain segregation occurs even in the liquid state. However, different chains are often associated through covalent bonds, e.g., in wax esters, diacylglycerols, triacylglycerols, and phospholipids. A variety of possibilities for chain segregation are present in the neat phases of wax esters, ceramides, diacylglycerols, and triacylglycerols. However, in the unique case of membrane lipids like phospholipids or sphingolipids, the two chains are forced to lie side by side by virtue of the interaction of the polar group with water, and thus interactions between different chains must occur. Most of the evidence suggests that, when a solid phase results in these systems, the nonspecific chain packing mode (hexagonal chain packing) is preferred. In fact, for all of the phospholipids studied thus far, clearcut evidence of specific chain-chain interaction in molecules having both unsaturated and saturated chains has never been observed. However, for mixed chain triacylglycerols, evidence of specific chain-chain interactions (beta' and even beta) has been found and some suggestions have been given as to how this might occur through chain segregation mechanisms in the neat state. The literature suggests that further work needs to be done on the interaction of different chains that are covalently linked to the same molecule. Such studies will lead to a better understanding of the structure of lipid bilayers, membranes, lipoproteins, and lipid deposits.

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