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Membrane Lipid Biosynthesis

  1. Jean E Vance

Published Online: 15 SEP 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001391.pub2



How to Cite

Vance, J. E. 2010. Membrane Lipid Biosynthesis. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2010


Biological membranes consist of a complex array of proteins and lipids that create selective permeability barriers in cells. Another function of membrane lipids is their degradation to generate ‘lipid second messengers’ that can regulate important cellular functions such as cell division and cell death. The major membrane lipids of eukaryotic cells are the glycerophospholipids, the sterols and the sphingolipids. The most abundant glycerophospholipids in eukaryotic cells are phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine, each of which is synthesised by two independent pathways. The glycosphingolipids consist of structures in which ceramide is attached to a variety of oligosaccharide chains to create an enormously diverse class of lipids that are highly enriched on the cell surface. In mammalian cells, cholesterol is the most abundant sterol in membranes, whereas plants and fungi do not contain cholesterol per se but instead contain sterols that are related to cholesterol; prokaryotic membranes do not contain sterols.

Key Concepts:

  • Lipid bilayers provide the fundamental architecture of biological membranes.

  • Cellular phospholipid levels are tightly regulated.

  • Major classes of phospholipids are made by more than one pathway.

  • Acyl chain composition of phospholipids can be modified by deacylation.

  • The cholesterol-lowering statin drugs regulate cholesterol biosynthesis at the step catalysed by 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA reductase.


  • cardiolipin;
  • ceramide;
  • cholesterol;
  • ether lipids;
  • glycosphingolipid;
  • lipid bilayer;
  • phosphatidylcholine;
  • phosphatidylethanolamine;
  • phosphatidylserine;
  • sphingomyelin