AAT Bioquest

What are the differences between glycolipids and phospholipids?

Posted November 16, 2023


Basis of differentiation




Glycolipids are carbohydrates-attached lipids (which are covalently linked)

A phospholipid is a lipid made of a glycerol backbone bound to a phosphate group and 2 fatty acids

Structure (in depth)

Is made of a mono or oligosaccharide group (part of the hydrophilic head) bound to a sphingolipid (part of hydrophobic tail) or a glycerol molecule attached to one or two fatty acids 

Phospholipids have a glycerol molecule, two fatty acids (part of the hydrophobic tail), and a phosphate group modified by an alcohol (part of the hydrophilic head) 


Are lipids composed of sugar moieties

Phospholipids are lipids containing phosphorus


Glycolipids found exclusively on the outer leaflet of cellular membranes

Phospholipids are found in the inner and outer layers of all membranes within cells (in the form of a lipid bilayer)  


Glycolipids are involved in cell signaling, cell recognition, and cell adhesion

Phospholipids are the essential building blocks of cell membranes, and functions as a barrier to protect the cell from external stressors

Additional resources

Membranes and Membrane Lipids

Plasma Membrane

iFluor® 488-Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA) Conjugate

Cell Navigator® Cell Plasma Membrane Staining Kit *Green Fluorescence*