Overview of Phospholipids

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Chapter: Biochemistry : Phospholipid, Glycosphingolipid, and Eicosanoid Metabolism

Phospholipids are polar, ionic compounds composed of an alcohol that is attached by a phosphodiester bond to either diacylglycerol (DAG) or sphingosine.


OVERVIEW OF PHOSPHOLIPIDS

Phospholipids are polar, ionic compounds composed of an alcohol that is attached by a phosphodiester bond to either diacylglycerol (DAG) or sphingosine. Like fatty acids, phospholipids are amphipathic in nature. That is, each has a hydrophilic head, which is the phosphate group plus whatever alcohol is attached to it (for example, serine, ethanolamine, and choline, highlighted in blue in Figure 17.1A ), and a long, hydrophobic tail containing fatty acids or fatty acid–derived hydrocarbons (shown in orange in Figure 17.1A). Phospholipids are the predominant lipids of cell membranes. In membranes, the hydrophobic portion of a phospholipid molecule is associated with the nonpolar portions of other membrane constituents, such as glycolipids, proteins, and cholesterol. The hydrophilic (polar) head of the phospholipid extends outward, interacting with the intracellular or extracellular aqueous environment (see Figure 17.1A ). Membrane phospholipids also function as a reservoir for intracellular messengers, and, for some proteins, phospholipids serve as anchors to cell membranes. Nonmembrane phospholipids serve additional functions in the body, for example, as components of lung surfactant and essential components of bile, where their detergent properties aid in the solubilization of cholesterol.


Figure 17.1 A. Structures of some glycerophospholipids. B. Phosphatidic acid. P = phosphate (an anion).

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