How Essential Membrane Lipids Interact to Regulate Cellular Processes


The regulation of many cellular processes relies on interactions between sphingomyelin and cholesterol, two essential lipids in the cell’s plasma membrane. Researchers collected diffraction data at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) and  examined the three-dimensional molecular interaction between the lipid-binding protein Ostreolysin A and sphingomyelin/cholesterol complexes.

The results improved current understanding of how these lipids interact to carry out regulatory functions vital for controlling many signaling processes within the cell such as regulating cholesterol synthesis and uptake. This is important because the stability and integrity of the plasma membrane depend on proper levels of cholesterol; the study will instruct further research, but the structural-level mechanisms of interaction remain poorly understood.

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Endapally, S., et al. 2019. “Molecular Discrimination Between Two Conformations of Sphingomyelin in Plasma Membranes,” Cell 176(5), 1040–53. [DOI:10.1016/j.cell.2018.12.042]