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Phospholipids hydrocarbons, and carbon dioxide.

It prevents the diffusion of larger molecules such as

Phospholipids are amphipathic molecules that glucose, water and charged ions.
make up the bilayer of the plasma membrane cell communication and metabolism.
and keep the membrane fluid. These important cellular barriers support all cognitive
The first phospholipid to be discovered was function, cardiovascular health, nerve health, liver
phosphatidylcholine. It was originally named function, and digestion. During the digestive process,
lecithin after the Greek /react-text lekithos phospholipids form clusters to help move vitamins,
react-text: 85 , which means egg yolk. nutrients and fat-containing molecules through the
Phospholipids consist of a glycerol molecule, body.
two fatty acids, and a phosphate group that is Coating and insulation of nerve cells for proper nerve
modified by an alcohol. function
The phosphate group is the negatively-charged
polar head, which is hydrophilic. References:
The fatty acid chains are the uncharged, T.H.M. /react-text react-text: 67 Da Costa /react-
nonpolar tails, which are hydrophobic. text react-text: 68 , /react-text react-text: 69 M.K.
Since the tails are hydrophobic, they face the /react-text react-text: 70 Ito /react-text react-text:
inside, away from the water and meet in the 71 , in /react-text Encyclopedia of Food Sciences
inner region of the membrane. and Nutrition (Second Edition) react-text: 74 ,
Since the heads are hydrophilic, they face /react-text react-text: 75 2003
outward and are attracted to the intracellular
and extracellular fluid. dArticle.asp?id=61&StoreID=1C7A08050B8F4419BF
phospholipids form an excellent lipid bilayer FBA945004CA5D1
cell membrane that separates fluid within the
cell from the fluid outside of the cell. undless-biology-textbook/biological-
If phospholipids are placed in water, they form macromolecules-3/lipids-55/phospholipids-300-
into micelles, which are lipid molecules that 11433/
arrange themselves in a spherical form in
aqueous solutions. Defining Characteristics of Phospholipids
Phospholipids are major components of the plasma
Phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine are
membrane, the outermost layer of animal cells. Like
examples of two important phospholipids that
fats, they are composed of fatty acid chains
are found in plasma membranes.
attached to a glycerol backbone. Unlike
the lipid bilayer acts as a semipermeable
triglycerides, which have three fatty acids,
phospholipids have two fatty acids that help form a
There are five general classes of phospholipids.
diacylglycerol. The third carbon of the glycerol
These are phosphatidylserine,
backbone is also occupied by a modified phosphate
group. However, just a phosphate group attached
phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol
to a diacylglycerol does not qualify as a
and phosphatidylsphingomyelin
phospholipid. This would be considered a
phosphatidate (diacylglycerol 3-phosphate), the
major components of the plasma membrane
precursor to phospholipids. To qualify as a
The fluid nature of the cell membrane allows the cell
phospholipid, the phosphate group should be
to change shape to compensate for a change in
modified by an alcohol. Phosphatidylcholine and
cellular volume or to adapt to physical
phosphatidylserine are examples of two important
phospholipids that are found in plasma membranes.
Phospholipids help the cell maintain its internal
structures and environment, a process called
Structure of a Phospholipid Molecule
A phospholipid is an amphipathic molecule which
promote membrane fluidity and are selective
means it has both a hydrophobic and a hydrophilic
about what flows in and out of each cell
component. A single phospholipid molecule has a
The selective nature of the phospholipids about what
phosphate group on one end, called the "head," and
enter and exist the cell; allow the free diffusion
two side-by-side chains of fatty acids that make up the
of small molecules, such as oxygen,
lipid "tails. " The phosphate group is negatively charged, phosphatidylsphingomyelin.The structures and
making the head polar and hydrophilic, or "water functions of the classes vary, but each starts with the
loving." The phosphate heads are thus attracted to the same basic configuration.The special characteristics of
water molecules in their environment. the different classes of phospholipids depend upon
The lipid tails, on the other hand, are uncharged, which element is attached,at the head i.e., whether
nonpolar, and hydrophobic, or "water fearing." A serine, choline, inositol or ethanolamine is attached,
hydrophobic molecule repels and is repelled by water. although it is now beginning to be realized that the
Some lipid tails consist of saturated fatty acids and activity of these phospholipids may also be influenced
some contain unsaturated fatty acids. This combination by which fatty acids make up the tails.
adds to the fluidity of the tails that are constantly in
motion. Phosphatidylcholine
Phospholipids and Biological Membranes Phosphatidylcholine is an excellent source of choline, a
The cell membrane consists of two adjacent layers B vitamin. Phosphatidylcholine is the major component
of phospholipids, which form a bilayer. The fatty of cell membranes and is critical for brain and liver
acid tails of phospholipids face inside, away from function. In the brain, phosphatidylcholine is the
water, whereas the phosphate heads face the precursor to acetylcholine. In digestion,
outward aqueous side. Since the heads face phosphatidylcholine is part of the bile complex that
outward, one layer is exposed to the interior of the emulsifies fats to facilitate absorption. Technically,
cell and one layer is exposed to the exterior. As the phosphatidylcholine is lecithin, although the term is
phosphate groups are polar and hydrophilic, they now used more frequently for the mixed phospholipid
are attracted to water in the intracellular fluid. byproducts of seed oil refining.
Because of the phospholipds' chemical and physical
characteristics, the lipid bilayer acts as a semipermeable Phosphatidylethanolamine
membrane; only lipophilic solutes can easily pass the Phosphatidylethanolamine is usually the second most
phospholipd bilayer. As a result, there are two distinct abundant phospholipid in animal and plant lipids and is
aqueous compartments on each side of the membrane. a key building block of cell membrane bilayers. It can be
This separation is essential for many biological transformed into phosphatidylcholine, but it
functions, including cell communication and nevertheless has its own roles in the cell. This
metabolism. phospholipid aids in the assembly of membrane
Membrane Fluidity proteins and without it they may not function properly.
A cell's plasma membrane contain proteins and other It may be needed to orient enzymes correctly in the
lipids (such as cholesterol) within the phospholipid inner membrane.
bilayer. Biological membranes remain fluid because of
the unsaturated hydrophobic tails, which prevent Phosphatidylinositol
phospholipid molecules from packing together and Phosphatidylinositol is present in all tissues and cell
forming a solid. types. It is especially abundant in brain tissue, where it
If a drop of phospholipids is placed in water, the can make up as much as 10% of the
phospholipids spontaneously form a structure phospholipids.There is usually less phosphatidylinositol
known as a micelle, with their hydrophilic heads in tissues than there is phosphatidylcholine,
oriented toward the water. Micelles are lipid phosphatidylethanolamine or phosphatidylserine, which
molecules that arrange themselves in a spherical is to say that it is a minor phospholipid constituent of
form in aqueous solution. The formation of a cell membranes. In cell membranes, it is usually located
micelle is a response to the amphipathic nature of on the inner side. Phosphatidylinositol is the primary
fatty acids, meaning that they contain both source of the arachidonic acid required for biosynthesis
hydrophilic and hydrophobic regions. of eicosanoids, including prostaglandins. Derivatives of
this phospholipid serve as messenger molecules with
The Different Kinds of Phospholipids the nervous system.

by Denise McKee, Ph.D. Phosphatidylserine (PS)

Phosphatidylserine has an affi nity for the proteins
There are five general classes of phospholipids. These found within the cellular membrane matrix. PS is
are phosphatidylserine, phosphatidylcholine, most concentrated in the cells of the brain and
phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol and nerves. PS promotes the stability and the integrity
of the cellular membrane and it promotes the
ability of cells to maintain that internal balance
known as homeostasis.Nerve cells are particularly
dependent upon the actions of the enzymes known
as the ATPases. Fully 70% of the energy used by the
brain and nerve cells may be required simply to
maintain the sodium/potassium and the
calcium/magnesium balances within these cells. The
enzymatic pumps literally operate all the time.
With age, the activity of these pumps declines, as
does nerve function. PS reverses this decline to a
certain extent, thus returning membrane functions
to a point that more closely resembles that of