Lipid Bilayer Mechanics - Curvature


Only certain classes of lipids can form bilayers. Two factors primarily govern whether a lipid will form a bilayer or not: solubility and shape. For a self assembled structure such as a bilayer to form, the lipid should have a low solubility in water, which can also be described as a low critical micelle concentration (CMC). Above the CMC, molecules will aggregate and form larger structures such as bilayers, micelles or inverted micelles.

The primary factor governing which structure a given lipid forms is its shape (i.e.- its intrinsic curvature). Intrinsic curvature is defined by the ratio of the diameter of the head group to that of the tail group. For two-tailed PC lipids, this ratio is nearly one so the intrinsic curvature is nearly zero. Other headgroups such as PS and PE are smaller and the resulting diacyl (two-tailed) lipids thus have a negative intrinsic curvature. Lysolipids tend to have positive spontaneous curvature because they have one rather than two alkyl chains in the tail region. If a particular lipid has too large a deviation from zero intrinsic curvature it will not form a bilayer.

Read more about this topic:  Lipid Bilayer Mechanics

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