The bulk structure of biological membranes consists of a bilayer of amphipathic lipids. According to the fluid mosaic model proposed by Singer and Nicholson, the glycerophospholipid bilayer is a two-dimensional fluid construct that allows the lateral movement of membrane components.
Different types of lateral interactions among membrane components can take place, giving rise to multiple levels of lateral order that lead to highly organized structures. Early observations suggested that some of the lipid components of biological membranes may play active roles in the creation
of these levels of order. In the late 1980s, a diverse series of experimental findings collectively gave rise to the lipid raft hypothesis. Lipid rafts were originally defined as membrane domains, i.e., ordered structures created as a consequence of the lateral segregation of sphingolipids
and differing from the surrounding membrane in their molecular composition and properties. This definition was subsequently modified to introduce the notion that lipid rafts correspond to membrane areas stabilized by the presence of cholesterol within a liquid-ordered phase. During the past
two decades, the concept of lipid rafts has become extremely popular among cell biologists, and these structures have been suggested to be involved in a great variety of cellular functions and biological events. During the same period, however, some groups presented experimental evidence that
appeared to contradict the basic tenets that underlie the lipid raft concept. The concept is currently being re-defined, with greater consistency regarding the true nature and role of lipid rafts. In this article we will review the concepts, criticisms, and the novel confirmatory findings
relating to the lipid raft hypothesis.
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