Membranes: a meeting point for lipids, proteins and therapies

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Abstract

Membranes constitute a meeting point for lipids and proteins. Not only do they define the entity of cells and cytosolic organelles but they also display a wide variety of important functions previously ascribed to the activity of proteins alone. Indeed, lipids have commonly been considered a mere support for the transient or permanent association of membrane proteins, while acting as a selective cell/organelle barrier. However, mounting evidence demonstrates that lipids themselves regulate the location and activity of many membrane proteins, as well as defining membrane microdomains that serve as spatio-temporal platforms for interacting signalling proteins. Membrane lipids are crucial in the fission and fusion of lipid bilayers and they also act as sensors to control environmental or physiological conditions. Lipids and lipid structures participate directly as messengers or regulators of signal transduction. Moreover, their alteration has been associated with the development of numerous diseases. Proteins can interact with membranes through lipid co-/post-translational modifications, and electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions, van der Waals forces and hydrogen bonding are all involved in the associations among membrane proteins and lipids. The present study reviews these interactions from the molecular and biomedical point of view, and the effects of their modulation on the physiological activity of cells, the aetiology of human diseases and the design of clinical drugs. In fact, the influence of lipids on protein function is reflected in the possibility to use these molecular species as targets for therapies against cancer, obesity, neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular pathologies and other diseases, using a new approach called membrane-lipid therapy.

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