An amphiphile (from the Greek αμφις, amphis: both and φιλíα, philia: love, friendship; also termed "amphipathic") is a term describing a chemical compound possessing both hydrophilic (water-loving, polar) and lipophilic (fat-loving, non-polar) properties. The phospholipid head usually contains a negatively charged phosphate group and glycerol; it is hydrophilic. The phospholipid tails usually consist of 2 long fatty acid chains; they are hydrophobic and avoid interactions with water. When placed in aqueous solutions, phospholipids are driven by hydrophobic interactions that result in the fatty acid tails aggregating to minimize interactions with water molecules. These specific properties allow phospholipids to play an important role in the phospholipid bilayer. In biological systems, the phospholipids often occur with other molecules (e.g., proteins, glycolipids, sterols) in a bilayer such as a cell membrane. Lipid bilayers occur when hydrophobic tails line up against one another, forming a membrane of hydrophilic heads on both sides facing the water.
Such movement can be described by the fluid mosaic model, that describes the membrane as a mosaic of lipid molecules that act as a solvent for all the substances and proteins within it, so proteins and lipid molecules are then free to diffuse laterally through the lipid matrix and migrate over the membrane. Sterols contribute to membrane fluidity by hindering the packing together of phospholipids. However, this model has now been superseded, as through the study of lipid polymorphism it is now known that the behaviour of lipids under physiological (and other) conditions is not simple.
- See: Glycerophospholipid
- Ceramide phosphorylcholine (Sphingomyelin) (SPH)
- Ceramide phosphorylethanolamine (Sphingomyelin) (Cer-PE)
- Ceramide phosphoryllipid