BER Structural Biology and Imaging Resources
Synchrotron, Neutron, and Cryo-EM
U.S. Department of Energy | Office of Science | Office of Biological and Environmental Research

How Essential Membrane Lipids Interact to Regulate Cellular Processes

November 19, 2019

Feature Story

The regulation of many cellular processes relies on interactions between sphingomyelin and cholesterol, two essential lipids in the cell’s plasma membrane. Collecting diffraction data at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source (APS), researchers examined the three-dimensional molecular interaction between the lipid-binding protein Ostreolysin A and sphingomyelin/cholesterol complexes. The results of this study improved current understanding of how these lipids interact to carry out their regulatory functions vital for controlling many signaling processes within the cell such as regulation of the synthesis and uptake of cholesterol. 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.

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]