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Lecture 2:Membrane Structure and Function

Membrane structure & FunctionsFluid Mosaic ModelMembrane ProteinsDiffusionFacilitated DiffusionOsmosisActive TransportBulk TransportEndocytosis & ExocytosisOutline

Structure of Cell Membrane

What are membranes?Membranes cover the surface of every cell, and also surround most organelles within cells. They have a number of functions, such as:

Protection: keeping all cellular components inside the cell and allowing a cell to change shape.

Transport (like a gate): Selectively allow substances to move in and out of the cell.

isolating organelles from the rest of the cytoplasm, allowing cellular processes to occur separately.

Recognition: a site for biochemical reactions.

Communication: cell- cell interactions.

4Boardworks High School Science The Fluid Mosaic Model

Membrane Models: Scientific Inquiry In 1915, membranes isolated from red blood cells were chemically analyzed and found to be composed of lipids and proteins.

In 1924, using an electron microscope, two Dutch physicians, E. Gorter and F. Grendel found that the cell membrane was composed primarily of phospholipids. They deduced, based on the properties of phospholipids, that the cell membrane was in fact a bilayer.

By the 1930s experimental evidence showed that proteins were also part of the cell membrane.

In 1935, James Danielli and Hugh Davson proposed the sandwich model: a phospholipid bilayer between two layers of protein with pores for molecules to travel through.

In 1972, S. J. Singer and Garth Nicholson presented the fluid mosaic model of the cell membrane, which displayed the cell membrane as an integration of proteins and other molecules into the phospholipid bilayer.

The head is charged and so polar; the tails are not charged and so are non-polar. Thus the two ends of the phospholipid molecule have different properties in water. The phosphate head is hydrophilic and so the head will orient itself so that it is as close as possible to water molecules. The fatty acid tails are hydrophobic and so will tend to orient themselves away from water.

Amphipathic - having both: hydrophilic heads hydrophobic tails

Phospholipid bilayer

Phospholipid bilayer

Fluid mosaic model of cell membranes The Fluidity of Membranes

Membranes are not static sheets of molecules locked rigidly in place. Membranes are fluid and are rather viscous like olive oil. The greater concentration of unsaturated fatty acids , the more fluid is the bilayer. Cholesterol also allows the cell membrane to stay fluid over a wider range of temperatures.


The molecules of the cell membrane are always in motion, most of the lipids and some of the proteins can shift about laterally. so the phospholipids are able to drift across the membrane, changing places with their neighbor (lateral movement). Rarely, for a molecule to flip- flop transversely across the membrane, switching from one phospholipid layer to the other; to do so, the hydrophilic part of the molecule must cross the hydrophobic interior of the membrane.

2. The Mosaic Quality of the membrane

Somewhat like a tile mosaic, a membrane is a collage of different proteins, often clustered together in groups, embedded in the fluid matrix of the lipid bilayer.

Proteins, both in and on the membrane, form a mosaic, floating in amongst the phospholipids.

Various proteins are associated with the cell membrane:

Integral Proteins penetrate the hydrophobic interior of the lipid bilayer. The majority are transmembrane proteins, which span the width of membrane; other integral proteins extend only partway into the hydrophobic interior and create channels through which charged molecules or large molecules can pass through.

Peripheral proteins are not embedded in the lipid bilayer at all; they are appendages loosely bound to the surface of the membraneand are primarily used in cell to cell signaling with surface carbohydrate chains or linking with the cytoskeleton for support.

Membrane Proteins and Their Functions

The Role of Membrane Carbohydrates in Cell-Cell Recognition

Cell-cell recognition, a cell s ability to distinguish one type of neighboring cell from another, is crucial to the functioning of an organism.

Membrane carbohydrates are usually short, branched chains of fewer than 15 sugar units. Some are covalently bonded to lipids, forming molecules called glycolipids. (Re-call that glyco refers to the presence of carbohydrate.) However, most are covalently bonded to proteins, which are thereby glycoproteins.

Cells recognize other cells by binding to molecules, often containing carbohydrates, on the extracellular surface of the plasma membrane


Selectively (Differentially) Permeable: membrane regulates what passes into and out of the cell. The cell membrane controls which substances pass into and out of the cell. Carrier proteins in or on the membrane are specific, only allowing a small group of very similar molecules through. For this reason, the cell membrane is said to be selectively permeable.

A steady traffic of small molecules and ions moves across the plasma membrane in both directions. Consider the chemical exchanges between a muscle cell and the extracellular fluid that bathes it. Sugars, amino acids, and other nutrients enter the cell, and metabolic waste products leave it.Membrane structure results in selective permeability

Non-polar molecules, such as hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and oxygen, are hydrophobic and can therefore dissolve in the lipid bilayer of the membrane and cross it easily, without the aid of membrane proteins.

Polar molecules such as glucose and other sugars pass only slowly through a lipid bilayer, and even water, an extremely small polar molecule, does not cross very rapidly.

A charged atom or molecule and its surrounding shell of water, find the hydrophobic interior of the membrane even more difficult to penetrate. Furthermore, the lipid bilayer is only one aspect of the gate-keeper system responsible for the selective permeability of a cell. Proteins built into the membrane play key roles in regulating transport.

Differentially Permeable

Transport Proteins

Cell membranes are permeable to specific ions and a variety of polar molecules. These hydrophilic substances can avoid contact with the lipid bilayer by passing through transport proteins that span the membrane.

Some transport proteins, called channel proteins, function by having a hydrophilic channel that certain molecules or atomic ions use as a tunnel through the membrane. For example, the passage of water molecules through the membrane in certain cells is greatly facilitated by channel proteins known as aquaporins. Without aquaporins, only a tiny fraction of these water molecules would pass through the same area of the cell membrane in a second, so the channel protein brings about a tremendous increase in rate.

Other transport proteins, called carrier proteins, hold onto their passengers and change shape in a way that shuttles them across the membrane.

A transport protein is specific for the substance it translocates (moves), allowing only a certain substance (or a small group of related substances) to cross the membrane.

For example, a specific carrier protein in the plasma membrane of red blood cells transports glucose across the membrane 50,000 times faster than glucose can pass through on its own. This glucose transporter is so selective that it even rejects fructose, a structural isomer of glucose.

Passive transportThe diffusion of a substance across a biological membrane is called passive transport because the cell does not have to expend energy to make it happen

Molecules have a type of energy called thermal energy (heat), due to their constant motion. One result of this motion is diffusion, the movement of molecules of any substance so that they spread out evenly into the available space.

A substance will diffuse from where it is more concentrated to where it is less concentrated. Put another way, any substance will diffuse down its concentration gradient, the region along which the density of a chemical substance increases or decreases (in this case, decreases).

Diffusion is a spontaneous passive process, which means it does not require any energy input.

It can occur across a living or non-living membrane and can occur in a liquid or gas medium. Due to the fact that diffusion occurs across a concentration gradient it can result in the movement of substances into or out of the cell.

Examples of substances moved by diffusion include carbon dioxide, oxygen, water and other small molecules that are able to dissolve within the lipid bilayer.

Facilitated Diffusion:Passive Transport Aided by ProteinsFacilitated diffusion is a special form of diffusion which allows rapid exchange of specific substances.

Facilitated diffusion can only occur across living, biological membranes which contain the carrier proteins. A substance is transported via a carrier protein from a region of high concentration to a region of low concentration until it is randomly distributed.

Particles are taken up by carrier proteins which change their shape as a result. The change in shape causes the particles to be released on the other side of the membrane.


Water diffuses across a selectively permeable membrane from the region of lower solute concentration (higher free water concentration) to that of higher solute concentration (lower free water concentration) through semi-permeable membrane, whether art