Counterion-mediated pattern formation in membranes containing anionic lipids


Most lipid components of cell membranes are either neutral, like cholesterol, or zwitterionic, like phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin. Very few lipids, such as sphingosine, are cationic at physiological pH. These generally interact only transiently with the lipid bilayer, and their synthetic analogs are often designed to destabilize the membrane for drug or DNA delivery. However, anionic lipids are common in both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cell membranes. The net charge per anionic phospholipid ranges from −1 for the most abundant anionic lipids such has phosphatidylserine, to near −7 for phosphatidylinositol 3,4,5 trisphosphate, although the effective charge depends on many environmental factors. Anionic phospholipids and other negatively charged lipids such as lipopolysaccharides are not randomly distributed in the lipid bilayer, but are highly restricted to specific leaflets of the bilayer and to regions near transmembrane proteins or other organized structures within the plane of the membrane. This review highlights some recent evidence that counterions, in the form of monovalent or divalent metal ions, polyamines, or cationic protein domains, have a large influence of the lateral distribution of anionic lipids within the membrane, and that lateral demixing of anionic lipids has effects on membrane curvature and protein function that are important for biological control.

Advances in Colloid and Interface Science