Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that consists of a group of tocols and tocotrienols with hydrophobic character, but possessing a hydroxyl substituent that confers an amphipathic character on them. The isomers of biological importance are the tocopherols, of which alpha-tocopherol is the most potent vitamin. Vitamin E partitions into lipoproteins and cell membranes, where it represents a minor constituent of most membranes. It has a major function in its action as a lipid antioxidant to protect the polyunsaturated membrane lipids against free radical attack. Other functions are believed to be to act as membrane stabilizers by forming complexes with the products of membrane lipid hydrolysis, such as lysophospholipids and free fatty acids. The main experimental approach to explain the functions of vitamin E in membranes has been to study its effects on the structure and stability of model phospholipid membranes. This review describes the function of vitamin E in membranes and reviews the current state of knowledge of the effect of vitamin E on the structure and phase behaviour of phospholipid model membranes.
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