Lipid Rafts and Caveolae in Signaling by Growth Factor Receptors

Angela de Laurentiis1, Lorna Donovan2, Alexandre Arcaro*, 1, 2
1 Division of Clinical Chemistry and Biochemistry, University Children’s Hospital Zurich, Steinwiesstrasse 75, CH-8032 Zurich, Switzerland
2 Division of Medicine, Imperial College Faculty of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Road, London W12 ONN, UK

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2007 Bentham Science Publishers Ltd.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Division of Clinical Chemistry and Biochemistry, University Children’s Hospital Zurich, Steinwies-strasse 75, CH-8032 Zurich, Switzerland; Tel: +41 44 266 7640; Fax: +41 44 266 7169; E-mail:


Lipid rafts and caveolae are microdomains of the plasma membrane enriched in sphingolipids and cholesterol, and hence are less fluid than the remainder of the membrane. Caveolae have an invaginated structure, while lipid rafts are flat regions of the membrane. The two types of microdomains have different protein compositions (growth factor receptors and their downstream molecules) suggesting that lipid rafts and caveolae have a role in the regulation of signaling by these receptors. The purpose of this review is to discuss this model, and the implications that it might have regarding a potential role for lipid rafts and caveolae in human cancer. Particular attention will be paid to the epidermal growth factor receptor, for which the largest amount of information is available. It has been proposed that caveolins act as tumor suppressors. The role of lipid rafts is less clear, but they seem to be capable of acting as ‘signaling platforms’, in which signal initiation and propagation can occur efficiently.