Fluid Mosaic Model

The fluid mosaic model was proposed by S.J. Singer and Garth L. Nicolson. This model explains the structure of the plasma membrane of animal cells as a mosaic of components such as phospholipids, proteins, cholesterol, and carbohydrates. These components give a fluid character to the membranes.

Each phospholipid has a hydrophilic head pointing outside and a hydrophobic tail forming the inside of the bilayer.

Cholesterol and proteins are embedded in the bilayer that gives the membrane a mosaic look. Each component has a specific function to perform.

Table of Contents

Also Read: Cell membrane and plasma membrane

Components of Plasma Membrane

Components Location
Phospholipid The main fabric of plasma membrane
Cholesterol Between phospholipids and phospholipid bilayers
Integral proteins Embedded within phospholipid layers
Peripheral proteins Inner or outer surface of the phospholipid bilayer
Carbohydrates Attached to proteins on outside membrane layers


Phospholipids are amphipathic molecules with a hydrophilic head and a hydrophobic tail. These are attached to a glycerol molecule by a covalent bond.


It helps the plasma membrane to retain the fluidity. It is present between the phospholipids and prevents the compaction of hydrophilic tails at low temperatures and their expansion at high temperatures.


The plasma membrane has three types of proteins:

  • Integral Proteins: These proteins form channels to allow the movement of large molecules and ions across the hydrophobic layer of the membrane.
  • Peripheral Proteins: These are found embedded in a single leaflet of the membrane. They carry signals from one segment of the membrane and relay it to the another.
  • Glycoproteins: They stabilize the membrane and are responsible for intercellular communication.

Factors Affecting Fluidity of Plasma Membrane

The fluidity of the cell membrane is influenced by three factors:


Phospholipids are found close together when it is cold. When it’s hot, they move apart.


The cholesterol molecules are randomly distributed along the phospholipid bilayer and hold it preventing it from separating too far, or compact too tightly.

Saturated and Unsaturated Fatty Acids

Fatty acids make up the phospholipid tails. Saturated fatty acid chains have a single bond between the carbon atoms whereas, unsaturated fatty acid chains have double bonds between the carbon atoms.

Double bonds make it harder for the chain to pack tightly by creating kinks. These kinks increase the fluidity of the membrane.

Also Read: Lipids

Restriction to Fluidity of Plasma Membrane

The fluidity of plasma membrane is restricted due to:

Lipid Rafts

These are the lipid domains found on the external leaflet of the plasma membrane. Cholesterol, glycosphingolipids, glycosylphosphatidylinositol are the building blocks of lipid rafts.

Protein Complexes

Proteins and glycoproteins are diffused within the plasma membrane. These help in the transport of ions and metabolites, cell signalling, adhesion, and migration.

Key Points on Fluid Mosaic Model

  • The plasma membrane comprises amphiphilic, phospholipid molecules.
  • The second important component of the plasma membrane is integral proteins that are integrated completely into the membrane.
  • Carbohydrates are found on the external surface of the membrane where they are bound to proteins or lipids.

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Frequently Asked Questions


Why is it called fluid mosaic model?

The phospholipid molecules and the molecules of cholesterol are linked together. This keeps the cell membrane intact and cohesive. This is why it is called fluid mosaic model.


What are the features of the membranes of fluid mosaic model?

The membranes of fluid mosaic model include:

  • A lipid bilayer, where lipids are free to move but cannot cross the membrane.
  • Integral membrane proteins

What causes the fluidity of plasma membrane?

The elasticity and fluidity of plasma membrane are due to lipid molecules. The membrane proteins give semi-permeability to the plasma membrane.


Which factors affect the fluidity of the plasma membrane?

The fluidity of the plasma membrane is affected due to:

  • Length of the fatty acid tail
  • Temperature
  • Cholesterol
  • Degree of saturation of fatty acid tails

What are integral and peripheral proteins?

Peripheral proteins are those that are located in the inner and outer layer of phospholipid bilayer, whereas, integral proteins are embedded within the bilayer.

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