Over the past 40 years our understanding of the organization of cell membranes has changed dramatically. Membranes are no longer viewed as a homogenous sea of phospholipids studded with randomly positioned islands of proteins. Our current view of the membrane involves the formation of small lipid clusters, comprised mainly of cholesterol and sphingolipids, known as membrane rafts. These lipid clusters apparently include and exclude specific proteins leading to the hypothesis that these domains (1) regulate cellular polarity and compartmentalization through trafficking and sorting, (2) provide platforms for cellular signaling and adhesion, and (3) function as cellular gate keepers. Tremendous controversy surrounds the concept of membrane rafts primarily because these small, highly dynamic entities are too small to be observed with traditional microscopic methods and the most utilized approach for raft analysis relies on poorly quantified, inconsistent biochemical extractions. New analytical approaches are being developed and applied to the study of membrane rafts and these techniques provide great promise for furthering our understanding of these enigmatic domains. In this review we will provide a brief summary of the current understanding of membrane rafts, utilizing the CNS myelin literature for illustrative purposes, and present caveats that should be considered when studying these domains.
Pubmed ID: 19379822 RIS Download
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