Biomembranes pp 81-110 | Cite as

“Fluidity” of Membranes — An NMR Approach

  • Ian C. P. Smith
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (NSSA, volume 76)


It is common to describe biological membranes in terms of their “fluidity”. This rather loose term needs some definition before we can deal with its determination by NMR. Figure 1 shows some of the conformations available to the acyl (alkyl) chains of membrane lipids. In most of these conformations particular angles are made between the normal to the bilayer and a given carbon-hydrogen bond. An assessment of the conformational preferences for a given position can be made in terms of the average value of the function ((3cos2 θ−1)/2), which is known as the bond order parameter, SCD. After correcting for differences in intrinsic geometry, we have the molecular order parameter, Smol = SCD/SGEO. Smol varies from 0 for no conformational preference, to 1 for an extended all-trans conformation. This is the spatial aspect of “fluidity”. The other aspect concerns the rates of motion of individual positions within the allowed ordered region. Of course many motions are possible, and a unique analysis of the various modes and their rates may be difficult. Nevertheless, one can define an “effective” rate of motion. Thus, we see that there are both spatial and temporal components to “fluidity”; specifying only one of them cannot describe the system adequately.


Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrum Quadrupole Splitting Chemical Shift Anisotropy Purple Membrane 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian C. P. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Biological SciencesNational Research Council of CanadaOttawaCanada

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