Why do Phospholipids Form a Bilayer in Water?

It is the shape and amphipathic nature of the lipid molecules that cause them to form bilayers spontaneously in aqueous environments. However, read below to get a detailed answer to why do Phospholipids form a Bilayer in water.

Why do Phospholipids Form a Bilayer in Water?

The two fatty acids in phospholipids are hydrophobic, or insoluble in water.

However, the phosphate group is hydrophilic, or water-soluble. When phospholipids are mixed with water, they spontaneously rearrange to form the configuration with the lowest free energy.

This means that the hydrophobic regions try to get away from water, whereas the hydrophilic regions interact with it. A lipid bilayer is a resulting structure.

What are Phospholipids?

A phospholipid is a lipid molecule that serves as the primary component of the cell membrane. Lipids are molecules that include, among other things, fats, waxes, and vitamins.

Each phospholipid molecule is composed of two fatty acids, a phosphate group, and a glycerol molecule. When many phospholipids line up, they form a double layer, which is found in all cell membranes.

Now let’s look at why Phospholipids form a bilayer in water.

Why Phospholipids Form Bilayers in Water

Below are the reasons Phospholipids form Bilayers in water:

Phospholipid biology structure consists of polar water-loving head groups and two uncharged non-polar hydrophobic tails composed of hydrocarbon chains. 

1. The Length of the Fatty Acid Tail

The length of the fatty acid tail impacts the fluidity of the membrane.

This is because the intermolecular interactions between the phospholipid tails add rigidity to the membrane.

As a result, the longer the phospholipid tails, the more interactions between the tails are possible and the less fluid the membrane will be.


2. Temperature

As temperature increases, so does phospholipid bilayer fluidity.

At lower temperatures, phospholipids in the bilayer do not have as much kinetic energy and they cluster together more closely, increasing intermolecular interactions and decreasing membrane fluidity.

At high temperatures the opposite process occurs, phospholipids have enough kinetic energy to overcome the intermolecular forces holding the membrane together, which increases membrane fluidity.

3. Cholesterol Content of the Bilayer

Cholesterol has a somewhat more complicated relationship with membrane fluidity.

You can think of it as a buffer that helps keep membrane fluidity from getting too high or too low at high and low temperatures.

At low temperatures, phospholipids tend to cluster together, but steroids in the phospholipid bilayer fill in between the phospholipids, disrupting their intermolecular interactions and increasing fluidity.

At high temperatures, the phospholipids are further apart.

In this case, cholesterol in the membrane has the opposite effect and pulls phospholipids together, increasing intermolecular forces and decreasing fluidity.

4. The Degree of Saturation of Fatty Acids Tail

Phospholipid tails can be saturated or unsaturated.

The terms saturated and unsaturated refer to whether or not double bonds are present between the carbons in the fatty acid tails.

Saturated tails have no double bonds and as a result, have straight unkinked tails. Unsaturated tails have double bonds and, as a result, have crooked, kinked tails.

What are the Types of Phospholipids?

Not all phospholipids are the same as they differ in size, shape, and chemical makeup. Different classes of phospholipids are determined by the type of molecule that is bound to the phosphate group.

Types of phospholipids that are involved in cell membrane formation include phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylserine, and phosphatidylinositol.

1. Phosphatidylcholine (PC)

Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is the most abundant phospholipid in cell membranes. Choline is bound to the phosphate head region of the molecule.

Choline in the body is primarily derived from PC phospholipids. Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which transmits nerve impulses in the nervous system.

PC is important structurally to membranes as it helps to maintain membrane shape. It is also necessary for the proper functioning of the liver and absorption of lipids.

PC phospholipids are components of bile, aid in the digestion of fats, and assist in the delivery of cholesterol and other lipids to body organs.

2. Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE)

Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) has the molecule ethanolamine attached to the phosphate head region of this phospholipid.

It is the second most abundant cell membrane phospholipid. The small head group size of this molecule makes it easier for proteins to be positioned within the membrane.

It also makes membrane fusion and budding processes possible.

In addition, PE is an important constituent of mitochondrial membranes.

3. Phosphatidylserine (PS) 

Phosphatidylserine (PS) has the amino acid serine bound to the phosphate head region of the molecule. It is typically confined to the inner portion of the cell membrane facing the cytoplasm.

PS phospholipids play an important role in cell signaling as their presence on the outer membrane surface of dying cells signals macrophages to digest them.

PS in platelet blood cells aid in the blood clotting process.

4. Phosphatidylinositol 

Phosphatidylinositol is less commonly found in cell membranes than PC, PE, or PS. Inositol is bound to the phosphate group in this phospholipid.

Phosphatidylinositol is found in many cell types and tissues but is particularly abundant in the brain.

These phospholipids are important for the formation of other molecules that are involved in cell signaling and help to bind proteins and carbohydrates to the outer cell membrane.


Phospholipids are an important and necessary component of cell membranes. They combine to form a lipid bilayer. The above fully answers the question: why do Phospholipids form a Bilayer in water? Please, kindly share this content on all social media platforms.

CSN Team.

Similar Posts