Many membrane proteins selectively bind defined lipid species. This specificity has an impact on correct insertion, folding, structural integrity and full functionality of the protein. How are these different tasks achieved? Recent advances in structural research of membrane proteins provide new information about specific protein–lipid interactions. Tightly bound lipids in membrane protein structures are described and general principles of the binding interactions are deduced. Lipid binding is stabilized by multiple non-covalent interactions from protein residues to lipid head groups and hydrophobic tails. Distinct lipid-binding motifs have been identified for lipids with defined head groups in membrane protein structures. The stabilizing interactions differ between the electropositive and electronegative membrane sides. The importance of lipid binding for vertical positioning and tight integration of proteins in the membrane, for assembly and stabilization of oligomeric and multisubunit complexes, for supercomplexes, as well as for functional roles are pointed out.

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