Transport Of Ions And Small Molecules Across Cell Membranes

Aquaporin, the water channel, consists of four identical transmembrane polypeptides.

The plasma membrane is a selectively permeable barrier between the cell and the extracellular environment. Its permeability properties ensure that essential molecules such as ions, glucose, amino acids, and lipids readily enter the cell, metabolic intermediates remain in the cell, and waste compounds leave the cell. In short, the selective permeability of the plasma membrane allows the cell to maintain a constant internal environment. In Chapter 5, we learned about the components and structural organization of cell membranes. Movement of virtually all molecules and ions across cellular membranes is mediated by selective membrane transport proteins embedded in the phospholipid bilayer. Because different cell types require different mixtures of low-molecular-weight compounds, the plasma membrane of each cell type contains a specific set of transport proteins that allow only certain ions and molecules to cross. Similarly, organelles within the cell often have a different internal environment from that of the surrounding cytosol, and organelle membranes contain specific transport proteins that maintain this difference.

We begin our discussion by reviewing some general principles of transport across membranes and distinguishing three major classes of transport proteins. In subsequent sections, we describe the structure and operation of specific examples of each class and show how members of families of homologous transport proteins have different properties that enable different cell types to function appropriately. We also explain how specific combinations of transport proteins in different subcellular membranes enable cells to carry out essential physiological processes, including the maintenance of cytosolic pH, the accumulation of sucrose and salts in plant cell vacuoles, and the directed flow of water in both plants and animals. Epithelial cells, such as those lining the small intestine, transport ions, sugars and other small molecules, and water from one side to the other. We shall see how, in order to do this, their plasma membranes are organized into at least two discrete regions, each with its own set of transport proteins. The last two sections of the chapter focus on the panoply of transport proteins that allow nerve cells to generate and conduct the type of electric signal called an action potential along their entire length and to transmit these signals to other cells, inducing a change in the electrical properties of the receiving cells.

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