Lipid Signals from Plasma Membrane


Plasma membrane is a more and more appreciated topic in life sciences research for the specific roles of this lipid asset for cell functions. In particular, fatty acids, which are the principal constituents of membrane phospholipids, are known for their crucial contributions to the membrane organisation, biophysical properties and molecular signalling. An interdisciplinary vision of lipid signaling from plasma membrane is necessary, combining interdisciplinary vision of lipid signalling from plasma membrane, combining the intrinsic significance of saturated and unsaturated lipid structures, the interplay between metabolism and diet creating healthy signalling and the perspectives of fatty acid‐based membrane lipidomics to obtain molecular information that can predict the signalling, in particular for inflammatory conditions. From this scenario, several issues emerge for future research, pointing to the full integration of the plasma membrane analysis in molecular biology studies and to calibrated and automated protocols for gathering big data on membrane lipidome.

Key Concepts

  • Fatty acid‐containing phospholipids provide structural, functional and signalling properties to cell membranes.
  • Each tissue has its own membrane fatty acid composition which regulates the structure and functions.
  • Plasma membrane needs unsaturated fatty acids as cis isomers, prepared both endogenously by desaturase enzymes and by taking the precursors of polyunsaturated fatty acids from diet.
  • The presence of trans fatty acids in plasma membrane can be marker of free radical stress causing an endogenous isomerisation of the naturally occurring cis lipids.
  • The position and geometry of double bonds are crucial for the organisation given by fatty acids to cell membranes and must be recognised by appropriate analytical methodologies.
  • The balance between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids regulates plasma membrane organisation and responses, thus influencing the entire cell fate.
  • Fatty acids in membranes are epigenetic molecular factors, showing how nutritional and metabolic factors control the release of important signalling molecules in inflammatory conditions and other metabolic processes.
  • The balance between omega‐6 and omega‐3 components in membranes creates the predisposition of cell membrane to signalling responses in the inflammatory process.

Keywords: membrane lipidomics; fatty acid signalling; cis–trans isomerisation; peroxidation index; membrane unsaturation index; PUFA balance; geometrical isomers; positional isomers

Figure 1. The main saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acid residues of the cell membrane phospholipids.
Figure 2. Arachidonic acid and cis–trans isomerisation of double bonds in the membrane bilayer by sulfur‐centred radicals.
Figure 3. The membrane remodelling process called Lands's cycle.


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Ferreri, Carla(May 2020) Lipid Signals from Plasma Membrane. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028843]