The endoplasmic reticulum (EN-doh-PLAZ-mik ri-TIK-yuh-luhm), abbreviated ER, is a system of membranous tubes and sacs, called cisternae (sis-TUHR-nee). The ER functions primarily as an intracellular highway, a path along which molecules move from one part of the cell to another. The amount of ER inside a cell fluctuates, depending on the cell's activity. There are two types of ER: rough and smooth. The two types of ER are thought to be continuous.
The rough endoplasmic reticulum is a system of interconnected, flattened sacs covered with ribosomes, as shown in Figure 4-15. The rough ER produces phospholipids and proteins. Certain types of proteins are made on the rough ER's ribosomes. These proteins are later exported from the cell or inserted into one of the cell's own membranes. For example, ribosomes on the rough ER make digestive enzymes, which accumulate inside the endoplasmic reticulum. Little sacs or vesicles then pinch off from the ends of the rough ER and store the digestive enzymes until they are released from the cell. Rough ER is most abundant in cells that produce large amounts of protein for export, such as cells in digestive glands and antibody-producing cells.
The smooth ER lacks ribosomes and thus has a smooth appearance. Most cells contain very little smooth ER. Smooth ER builds lipids such as cholesterol. In the ovaries and testes, smooth ER produces the steroid hormones estrogen and testosterone. In skeletal and heart muscle cells, smooth ER releases calcium, which stimulates contraction. Smooth ER is also abundant in liver and kidney cells, where it helps detoxify drugs and poisons. Long-term abuse of alcohol and other drugs causes these cells to produce more smooth ER. Increased amounts of smooth ER in liver cells is one of the factors that can lead to drug tolerance. As Figure 4-15 shows, rough ER and smooth ER form an interconnected network.
The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) serves as a site of synthesis for proteins, lipids, and other materials. The dark lines in the photo represent the membranes of the ER, and the narrow lighter areas between the dark lines show the channels and spaces (cisternae) inside the ER.
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