By Wilfred D. Stein

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When the components of these membranes are studied in the laboratory, perhaps at 26 1. Physical Basis of Movement across Cell Membranes TEMPERATURE, T CHAIN DIFFRACTION o 4-6 A o 4-2 A Fig. 10. The phase transition in lipid bilayers: (a) Schematic representation of the order-to-disorder transition in a lipid bilayer. φ is the fraction of lipid molecules in the fluid state at the temperatures indicated on the abscissa. T\ and Th indicate the low and the high end of the phase transition, respectively.

Rather, one finds plots in which a break occurs over a rather restricted temperature range, so that two straight lines rather than one seem to fit the data better. Many workers identified these breaks in the plots with the possible existence of phase transitions in the phospholipid bilayers of the membranes in question. Below the break, the membrane (or a domain of the membrane surrounding the membrane protein in question) would be in the ordered state in which the protein reaction operated at a high activation energy; above the break, it would be in the fluid state.

11) showed a second break, this time demonstrating an apparent decrease in activation energy below the transition point. Their interpretation of their data is given in Fig. 11. The upper curve shows the results of a measurement of the fraction of the membrane phospholipids existing in the fluid state (100% above 37°C) or in the ordered state (100% below 20°C) made on whole E. coli by following the tumbling of a fluorescent probe molecule dissolved in the membrane. The midpoint of the phase transition is at 30°C.

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