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An interesting class of proteins is attached to biological membranes by a lipid that is chemically linked to the protein.

Bio Molecules - Lipids- Functions of lipids

Many of these proteins are involved in intra- and intercellular signaling. In some cases defects in their structure render the cells cancerous, presumably because growth-limiting signals are blocked by the structural error. Many of the chemical messengers are lipids and are thus of special interest here. There are several types of external messengers.

The first of these are hormones such as insulin and glucagon and the lipids known collectively as steroid hormones. A second class of lipid molecules is eicosanoids, which are produced in tissues and elicit cellular responses close to their site of origin.

Amphipathic Structure

They are produced in very low levels and are turned over very rapidly in seconds. Hormones have sites of action that are remote from their cells of origin and remain in the circulation for long periods minutes to hours. Lipid hormones invoke changes in gene expression; that is, their action is to turn on or off the instructions issued by deoxyribonucleic acid DNA to produce proteins that regulate the biosynthesis of other important proteins. Steroids are carried in the circulation bound singly to specific carrier proteins that target them to the cells in particular organs.

After permeating the external membranes of these cells, the steroid interacts with a specific carrier protein in the cytoplasm. This soluble complex migrates into the cell nucleus, where it interacts with the DNA to activate or repress transcription, the first step in protein biosynthesis. All five major classes of steroid hormones produced from cholesterol contain the characteristic five rings of carbon atoms of the parent molecule.

Progestins are a group of steroids that regulate events during pregnancy and are the precursors of the other steroid hormones. The glucocorticoids, cortisol , and corticosterones promote the biosynthesis of glucose and act to suppress inflammation. The mineralocorticoids regulate ion balances between the interior and the exterior of the cell. Androgens regulate male sexual characteristics, and estrogens perform an analogous function in females.


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The target organs for these hormones are listed in the table. Three types of locally acting signaling molecules are derived biosynthetically from C 20 polyunsaturated fatty acids, principally arachidonic acid. Twenty-carbon fatty acids are all known collectively as eicosanoic acids. The three chemically similar classes are prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes.

The eicosanoids interact with specific cell surface receptors to produce a variety of different effects on different tissues, but generally they cause inflammatory responses and changes in blood pressure , and they also affect the clotting of blood. Little is known about how these effects are produced within the cells of target tissues.

However, it is known that aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs inhibit either an enzyme in the biosynthesis pathway or the eicosanoid receptor on the cell surface. Otherwise, the triglyceride is called a mixed triglyceride. Fats are triglycerides that are solid or semisolid at room temperature. Oils are triglycerides that are liquid at room temperature. Fats are more common in animals, while oils are prevalent in plants and fish.

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The second most abundant class of lipids are the phospholipids, which are found in animal and plant cell membranes. Phospholipids also contain glycerol and fatty acids, plus the contain phosphoric acid and a low-molecular-weight alcohol. Common phospholipids include lecithins and cephalins.

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Physical Properties of Lipids

Fatty acids that have no carbon-carbon double bonds are saturated. These saturated fats are commonly found in animals and are usually solids. If one or more double bond is present, the fat is unsaturated. If only one double bond is present, the molecule is monounsaturated. The presence of two or more double bonds makes a fat polyunsaturated. Unsaturated fats are most often derived from plants.


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  • Many are liquids because the double bonds prevent efficient packing of multiple molecules. The boiling point of an unsaturated fat is lower than the boiling point of the corresponding saturated fat. Obesity occurs when there is an excess of stored lipids fat.

    Physical Properties | Avanti Polar Lipids

    While a few studies have linked fat consumption to diabetes and obesity, the vast majority of research suggests there is no link between dietary fat and obesity, heart disease, or cancer. Rather, weight gain is a consequence of excess consumption of any type of food, combined with metabolic factors.

    Bloor, W. Jones, Maitland. Leray, Claude. Ridgway, Neale. Share Flipboard Email. Helmenstine holds a Ph. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels. Here's a look at the function, structure, and physical properties of lipids.