Nanostructure and Dynamic Organization of Lipid Membranes


D. Y. Sasaki Biomolecular Materials and Interfaces, Sandia National Laboratories

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Cell membranes define the size and shape of the cell. In addition to this structural role, the membrane has a crucial regulatory role determining what information, nutrients, and waste can permeate this barrier. The cell membrane consists of a lipid bilayer and proteins, which can be either transmembrane or associated with one leaflet of the bilayer. The dynamic organization of proteins and lipids into domains (e.g., rafts) within the bilayer is important for multiple cellular processes, such as recognition and signaling events.

The chemical recognition process occurring on the surface of membranes is the basis of a versatile and specific sensor system for the cell. Lipid bilayer systems that mimic certain aspects of cell membrane function have been employed in biosensor schemes and continue to generate great interest in the nanotechnology field. Chemical recognition events can also cause structures to form, providing a mechanism for creating controllable, dynamic nanoscale architectures. The two main platforms for studying the dynamic properties of membranes for both nanotechnology and nanoscience applications are vesicular structures, called liposomes, and supported lipid bilayers.

This article aims to illustrate the importance of dynamic nanoscale structures in biological and model biological membranes. Applications of such structures for drug screening, biosensors, and microanalysis will be discussed. The emphasis will be on understanding what triggers structural reorganization on the nanoscale and how the temporal and spatial aspects of such reorganization can be controlled. The sophistication of the nanoscale machinery of the cell membrane offers many lessons that can be applied to the emerging field of nanotechnology.