Membrane Structure: Some General Principles

Science  17 Aug 1973:
Vol. 181, Issue 4100, pp. 622-629
DOI: 10.1126/science.181.4100.622


The arrangement of lipids and some proteins in the erythrocyte membrane has been discussed. The conclusions from this are listed here as a set of general guidelines for the structure of membranes of higher organisms: some of these rules may be wrong. But at this stage it seems useful to sharpen our thoughts in this way and thereby focus attention on various specific points.

1) The basis of a membrane is a lipid bilayer with (i) choline phospholipids and glycolipids in the external half and (ii) amino (and possibly some choline) phospholipids in the cytoplasmic half. There is effectively no lipid exchange across the bilayer (unless enzymatically catalyzed) (68).

2) Some proteins extend across the bilayer. Where this is so, they will in general have carbohydrate on their surface remote from the cytoplasm. This carbohydrate may prevent the protein diffusing out of the membrane into the cytoplasm; it acts as a lock on the protein.

3) Just as lipids do not flip-flop, proteins do not rotate across the membrane. Lateral motion or rotation of lipids and proteins in the plane of the bilayer may be expected.

4) Most membrane protein is associated with the inner, cytoplasmic, urface of the membrane. Proteins are not usually associated exclusively with the outer half of the lipid bilayer.

5) Membrane proteins are a special class of cytoplasmic proteins, not of secreted proteins.