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(1) Pertains to a chemical compound containing both polar (water-soluble) and nonpolar (not water-soluble) portions in its structure

(2) Of, or relating to, a chemical compound having hydrophobic and hydrophilic regions


The term amphipathic is a descriptive word for a substance or a chemical compound that possesses both hydrophilic and hydrophobic portions in its structure. An amphiphile is a chemical compound that is amphiphatic. It has both hydrophilic portion and hydrophobic portion. In particular, the hydrophilic portion is either charged or uncharged polar functional group. As for the hydrophobic portion, it usually is a large hydrocarbon moiety. It is nonpolar and as such it would not dissociate into ions in the presence of water. Rather, it repels a polar solvent.

Many biomolecules are amphipathic: phospholipids, cholesterol, glycolipids, fatty acids, bile acids, saponins, etc. In fact, it is the amphipathic nature of phospholipids that they form bilayers in cell membrane. They position their polar groups towards the surrounding aqueous medium whereas their hydrophobic chains towards the inside of the bilayer, defining a nonpolar region between two polar ones.

Word origin: Greek amphis ("both") + pathy, from Greek pátheia ("suffering", "feeling"), páth(os) + -ic


  • amphiphilic

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