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The lipid raft hypothesis states that specialized microdomains exist within the plasma membrane which regulates​ the lateral movement and clustering of specific classes of transmembrane proteins. These so-called lipid rafts are rich in glycosphingolipids as well as cholesterol.

How might the incorporation of cholesterol within the plasma membrane create these specialized domains?


The rigid, hydrophobic ring structure of cholesterol stiffens and subsequently thickens distinct sections of the plasma membrane by interleaving between the long acyl chains of sphingolipids.


Hydroxyl groups allow cholesterol to strengthen indirect interactions between phosphate head groups, which allow clustering of sphingolipids.


Cholesterol is a cofactor for GPI-anchored proteins, which cause clustering of particular lipid molecules.


Cholesterol is metabolized by enzymes that prevent cholesterol-mediated dissociation of scaffolding proteins necessary for lipid raft formation and maintenance.

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