The Endoplasmic Reticulum Is a Network of Interconnected Internal Membranes

Generally, the largest membrane in a eukaryotic cell encloses the endoplasmic reticulum (ER)—an extensive network of closed, flattened membrane-bounded sacs called cisternae (see Figure 5-19). The endoplasmic reticulum has a number of functions in the cell but is particularly important in the synthesis of lipids, membrane proteins, and secreted proteins. The smooth endoplasmic reticulum is smooth because it lacks ribosomes. In contrast, the cytosolic face of the rough endoplasmic reticulum is studded with ribosomes.

The Smooth Endoplasmic Reticulum The synthesis of fatty acids and phospholipids takes place in the smooth ER. Although many cells have very little smooth ER, this organelle is abundant in hepatocytes. Enzymes in the smooth ER of the liver also modify or detoxify hydrophobic chemicals such as pesticides and carcinogens by chemically converting them into more water-soluble, conjugated products that can be excreted from the body. High doses of such compounds result in a large proliferation of the smooth ER in liver cells.

The Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum Ribosomes bound to the rough ER synthesize certain membrane and organelle proteins and virtually all proteins to be secreted from the cell (Chapter 16). A ribosome that fabricates such a protein is bound to the rough ER by the nascent polypeptide chain of the protein. As the growing polypeptide emerges from the ribosome, it passes through the rough ER membrane, with the help of specific proteins in the membrane. Newly made membrane proteins remain associated with the rough ER membrane, and proteins to be secreted accumulate in the lumen of the organelle.

All eukaryotic cells contain a discernible amount of rough ER because it is needed for the synthesis of plasmamembrane proteins and proteins of the extracellular matrix. Rough ER is particularly abundant in specialized cells that produce an abundance of specific proteins to be secreted. For example, plasma cells produce antibodies, pancreatic acinar cells synthesize digestive enzymes, and cells in the pancreatic islets of Langerhans produce the polypeptide hormones insulin and glucagon. In these secretory cells and others, a large part of the cytosol is filled with rough ER and secretory vesicles (Figure 5-22).

Smooth ER Rough ER

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