The membranes are part and parcel of the organs, tissues, and cells. In the smallest unit of life or a cell, the entire unit is covered by a membrane. In fact, the cell organelles are also protected by a membranous structure differing in features. In this section, we will study the different membrane lipids that constitute this covering sheath and protect the internal things. Here, we will find out the constituents of the membranes and their functions elaborately.
What are Membrane Lipids?
The membranes in our physiology are generally of two types. They are either made of sterols or phospholipids. These types have significant characteristics that define their functions too. Due to their lipid nature, these membranes get easily dissolved in aqueous and organic solvents. It means the partial dissolution in the aqueous solution also explains the hydrophilic nature of these membranes. We can conclude that the membranes are made of something that is attracted to organic and aqueous solvents.
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Due to this dual characteristic, the membranes are called ‘amphiphilic’. The phospholipid structure of the membranes clearly suggests the reason behind this exemplary feature. This also shows how the membrane is responsible for passing oil-based or water-based compounds through it. Both the water-soluble and lipid-soluble regions are required to maintain the balance of the internal parts. For instance, active compounds that are water-soluble can only be attracted and let in by the hydrophilic portions of the membrane. Similarly, compounds that are oleophilic in nature will be absorbed and let through by the lipid-soluble region of the membrane. This maintains an excellent balance for cell physiology.
What are Phospholipids?
Now that we have understood the dual nature of the membranes, let us take a quick look at the structure of the phospholipids. The membrane phospholipids are complex compounds that are made of two particular sections. One section is lipid-soluble and the other section is water-soluble.
If we consider the molecular structure of these phospholipids then we will find that these molecules have a head that is generally made of glycerol. This head is then attached to two chains of fatty acid in the form of a tail. As you can easily understand, the glycerol head is the hydrophilic part. This head is also attached to a phosphoryl group making it more hydrophilic. It contains a negative charge that attracts the positively charged hydrogen atoms in the water molecules.
The oleophilic part of these membrane phospholipids contains fatty acid chains. These chains repel water. It means that they will most likely face each other to stay away from the water-based protoplasm. It is the lipid part that stays inside in a sandwiched format. Hence, the phosphoryl part is on the external and internal side of the cell membrane whereas the lipid part remains inside of a membrane. This is how the units forming the membrane get their amphiphilic nature.
Lipids in Cell Membrane: Features
The lipids in cell membranes have already been discussed. Now, let us check their physical and chemical features. As they have a dual feature, when the dry membrane lipids and cholesterols are mixed in an aqueous solution, the molecules show an excellent property. This is where the molecules form micelles. These micelles are globular structures where the hydrophobic or oleophilic portion remains inside the globular structures or liposomes. The fatty part of these molecules hates water and finds the easiest and best way to stay away from it.
The water-loving or hydrophilic part faces the water in the solution. If you observe carefully, you will find that the outer portion of the concentric spheres of micelles is hydrophilic as the phosphoryl group is facing the water. The inner surface is made of the hydrophobic part. Hence, the liposomes are double-layered concentric structures like the water inside the spheres will also face the hydrophilic part. Hence, you can understand that the two parts of the phospholipid structure present in the spheres are mirror images of each other.
The reverse will happen when the lipids in the cell membrane are mixed in an oil solvent. The phosphoryl portion would have been sandwiched by the fatty acid portion of the phospholipid molecules. This is how the cell membrane phospholipids are made.
Functions of Phospholipids
You can understand that these phospholipids are the critical units of the cell membranes protecting the cells. These units are also responsible for the sustainability of the cells. The inflow and outflow of different biomolecules are controlled by the cell membrane. In fact, these units also host a flexible gate for the entry and exit of the organic molecules.
Due to the excellent structure, the prime phospholipid function is a selective passage. It means that the cell membrane only lets something pass that matches the criteria. These units are also floating and moving. It gives the cell membrane a quasi-fluid structure letting them execute this function. The cell membranes have specific channels for various organic compounds such as proteins, fats, steroids, carbohydrates, etc. All these compounds have different features showing and proving that phospholipids are amphipathic.