Tolerance to changes in membrane lipid composition as a selected trait of membrane proteins.
Membrane lipid composition can vary dramatically across the three domains of life and even within single organisms. Here we review evidence that the lipid-exposed surfaces of membrane proteins have generally evolved to maintain correct structure and function in the face of major changes in lipid composition. Such tolerance has allowed evolution to extensively remodel membrane lipid compositions during the emergence of new species without having to extensively remodel the associated membrane proteins. The tolerance of membrane proteins also permits single-cell organisms to vary their membrane lipid composition in response to their changing environments and allows dynamic and organelle-specific variations in the lipid compositions of eukaryotic cells. Membrane protein structural biology has greatly benefited from this seemingly intrinsic property of membrane proteins: the majority of structures determined to date have been characterized under model membrane conditions that little resemble those of native membranes. Nevertheless, with a few notable exceptions, most experimentally determined membrane protein structures appear, to a good approximation, to faithfully report on native structure. © 2011 American Chemical Society