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New Artificial Membranes Enable Better Understanding of Membrane Proteins

February 19, 2021

A new artificial membrane helps researchers understand proteins in human cell membranes. The membrane rim is made of a detergent (purple), with a center made of lipid molecules found in biological membranes (green and blue), including cholesterol (gold). Image Credit: ORNL

The Science

The cell membrane is the wall-like outer layer that separates the inside of a cell from its surrounding environment. The membrane mainly consists of lipids and proteins. Lipids are molecules that form the membrane’s fundamental structure. Proteins carry out important cellular functions. Scientists have now developed a disc-shaped artificial membrane that shows how proteins can exhibit different properties when embedded in membranes with different lipid compositions. The researchers used X-ray and neutron scattering techniques to confirm the synthetic membrane’s structure.

The Impact

Membrane proteins represent about one third of all human proteins, but they are hard to study. Studying the structure of membrane proteins in their realistic environment is essential to better understand their function and the role they play in diseases. The new synthetic membrane provides a novel platform to appropriately vary the types of lipids in a membrane. This ability helps researchers to better understand different membrane proteins in a realistic environment.


Related Publication: Hutchison, J. M. et. al. (2020). Bicelles Rich in Both Sphingolipids and Cholesterol and their Use in Studies of Membrane Proteins. Journal of American Chemical Society, 142, 29.