A lipoprotein is a biochemical assembly that contains both proteins and lipids and may be structural or catalytic in function. Lipoproteins may be enzymes, proton pumps, ion pumps, or some combination of these functions. Examples include the high density and low density lipoproteins of the blood and the transmembrane proteins of the mitochondrion and the chloroplast.


The lipids are often an essential part of the complex, even if they seem to have no catalytic activity themselves. To isolate transmembrane lipoproteins from their associated membranes, detergents are often needed.

All cells need fats and, for all animal cells, cholesterol to build the multiple membranes which cells use to both control water, and water soluble elements, and to organize their internal structure and protein enzymatic systems.

Lipoproteins in the blood carry fats around the body. The protein particles have charged groups aimed outward so as to attract water molecules; this makes them soluble in the salt water based blood pool. Triglyceride-fats and cholesterol are carried internally, shielded from the water.

The interaction of the proteins forming the surface of the particles with (a) enzymes in the blood, (b) with each other and (c) with specific proteins on the surfaces of cells determine whether triglycerides and cholesterol will be added to or removed from the lipoprotein transport particles.

Regarding atheroma development and progression vs. regression, the key issue has always been cholesterol transport patterns, not cholesterol concentration itself.


By density

General categories of lipoproteins, listed in order from larger and less dense (more fat than protein) to smaller and more dense (more protein, less fat):
* Chylomicrons - carry triacylglycerol (fat) from the intestines to the liver and to adipose tissue.
* Very low density lipoproteins - carry (newly synthesised) triacylglycerol from the liver to adipose tissue.
* Intermediate density lipoproteins - are intermediate between VLDL and LDL. They are not usually detectable in the blood.
* Low density lipoproteins - carry cholesterol from the liver to cells of the body. Sometimes referred to as the "bad cholesterol" lipoprotein.
* High density lipoproteins - collects cholesterol from the body's tissues, and brings it back to the liver. Sometimes referred to as the "good cholesterol" lipoprotein.

Alpha and beta

It is also possible to classify lipoproteins as "alpha" and "beta", akin to the classification of proteins in serum protein electrophoresis. This terminolgy is sometimes used in describing lipid disorders such as Abetalipoproteinemia.


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