Asked • 05/13/19

Simple diffusion of lipid-soluble molecules through phospholipid bilayer -- does anything get "stuck" in transit?

It's a pretty elementary concept, and when I first learned of it I don't think I had the foundations to even think of such a question, but I found myself the other day thinking about the amphipathic nature of the phospholipids in the plasma membrane and why it might be that lipid-soluble molecules don't stay in between the layers (of the bilayer). I know that simple diffusion is a response to a concentration gradient, but consider a case where equilibrium is being restored and lipid-soluble molecules are diffusing from whatever extracellular matrix through the membrane and into the cytosol. Towards the end of this process, when equilibrium is nearly restored and the last few molecules are making their way into the cell, the rate of diffusion for these last couple molecules will be slower than those that diffused when the concentration difference was greater. Since the polar heads on the outside and inside of the bilayer are hydrophilic but the inner part, where the fatty acid tails are, is hydrophobic, what drives a molecule to leave the cozy, accepting, lipophilic environment of the middle (of the bilayer) to cross through the cytosolic-side rejecting polar heads and enter the cytosol?I understand that initially these molecules were moving into the cell in response to a difference in intracellular vs extracellular concentration, but I'm asking whether we would ever see a case where the gradient is nearly zero and a molecule in transit simply decides to reside in between the layers instead of crossing all the way into the cell; as if moving through the cytosolic polar head side is not worth the effort to reduce a nearly-zero gradient to zero.Please ask me if I can clarify my question in any way -- I'm finding it difficult to phrase. I asked my professor (who has her doctorate in toxicology & pharmacology) and she understood what I was asking but didn't have an answer.

3 Answers By Expert Tutors


Divyesh D. answered • 06/23/19

5 (7)

Third Year Medical Student (M.D) | B.S in Biochemistry

Jesse E. answered • 06/19/19

4.6 (8)

Experienced Biochemistry Tutor

Michael V. answered • 05/13/19

5 (33)

Senior Medical Student with Extensive Biology Background

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