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Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. New York: Garland Science; 2002.

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Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition.

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Chapter 10Membrane Structure

Special proteins inserted in cellular membranes create pores that permit the passage of molecules across them


Special proteins inserted in cellular membranes create pores that permit the passage of molecules across them. The bacterial protein shown here uses the energy from light (photons) to activate the pumping of protons across the plasma membrane. (Adapted (more...)

Cell membranes are crucial to the life of the cell. The plasma membrane encloses the cell, defines its boundaries, and maintains the essential differences between the cytosol and the extracellular environment. Inside eucaryotic cells, the membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, mitochondria, and other membrane-enclosed organelles maintain the characteristic differences between the contents of each organelle and the cytosol. Ion gradients across membranes, established by the activities of specialized membrane proteins, can be used to synthesize ATP, to drive the transmembrane movement of selected solutes, or, in nerve and muscle cells, to produce and transmit electrical signals. In all cells, the plasma membrane also contains proteins that act as sensors of external signals, allowing the cell to change its behavior in response to environmental cues; these protein sensors, or receptors, transfer information—rather than ions or molecules—across the membrane.

Despite their differing functions, all biological membranes have a common general structure: each is a very thin film of lipid and protein molecules, held together mainly by noncovalent interactions. Cell membranes are dynamic, fluid structures, and most of their molecules are able to move about in the plane of the membrane. The lipid molecules are arranged as a continuous double layer about 5 nm thick (Figure 10-1). This lipid bilayer provides the basic fluid structure of the membrane and serves as a relatively impermeable barrier to the passage of most water-soluble molecules. Protein molecules that span the lipid bilayer mediate nearly all of the other functions of the membrane, transporting specific molecules across it, for example, or catalyzing membrane-associated reactions, such as ATP synthesis. In the plasma membrane, some proteins serve as structural links that connect the cytoskeleton through the lipid bilayer to either the extracellular matrix or an adjacent cell, while others serve as receptors to detect and transduce chemical signals in the cell's environment. As would be expected, it takes many different membrane proteins to enable a cell to function and interact with its environment. In fact, it is estimated that about 30% of the proteins that are encoded in an animal cell's genome are membrane proteins.

Figure 10-1. Three views of a cell membrane.

Figure 10-1

Three views of a cell membrane. (A) An electron micrograph of a plasma membrane (of a human red blood cell) seen in cross section. (B and C) These drawings show two-dimensional and three-dimensional views of a cell membrane. (A, courtesy of Daniel S. (more...)

In this chapter we consider the structure and organization of the two main constituents of biological membranes—the lipids and the membrane proteins. Although we focus mainly on the plasma membrane, most of the concepts discussed are applicable to the various internal membranes in cells as well. The functions of cell membranes are considered in later chapters. Their role in ATP synthesis, for example, is discussed in Chapter 14; their role in the transmembrane transport of small molecules, in Chapter 11; and their roles in cell signaling and cell adhesion in Chapters 15 and 19, respectively. In Chapters 12 and 13 we discuss the internal membranes of the cell and the protein traffic through and between them.

  • The Lipid Bilayer
  • Membrane Proteins
  • References

By agreement with the publisher, this book is accessible by the search feature, but cannot be browsed.

Copyright © 2002, Bruce Alberts, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, and Peter Walter; Copyright © 1983, 1989, 1994, Bruce Alberts, Dennis Bray, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, and James D. Watson .
Bookshelf ID: NBK21055


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