The cell membrane surrounds the cytoplasm of a cell and, in animal cells, physically separates the intracellular components from the extracellular environment, thereby serving a function similar to that of skin. In fungi, some bacteria, and plants, an additional cell wall forms the outermost boundary; however, the cell wall plays mostly a mechanical support role rather than a role as a selective boundary. The cell membrane also plays a role in anchoring the cytoskeleton to provide shape to the cell, and in attaching to the extracellular matrix to help group cells together in the formation of tissues. The barrier is selectively permeable and able to regulate what enters and exits the cell, thus facilitating the transport of materials needed for survival. The movement of substances across the membrane can be either passive, occurring without the input of cellular energy, or active, requiring the cell to expend energy in moving it. The membrane also maintains the cell potential.
Specific proteins embedded in the cell membrane can act as molecular signals that allow cells to communicate with each other. Protein receptors are found ubiquitously and function to receive signals from both the environment and other cells. These signals are transduced and passed in a different form into the cell. For example, a hormone binding to a receptor could open an ion channel in the receptor and allow calcium ions to flow into the cell. Other proteins on the surface of the cell membrane serve as "markers" that identify a cell to other cells. The interaction of these markers with their respective receptors forms the basis of cell-cell interaction in the immune system.
The cell membrane consists primarily of a thin layer of amphipathic phospholipids which spontaneously arrange so that the hydrophobic "tail" regions are shielded from the surrounding polar fluid, causing the more hydrophilic "head" regions to associate with the cytosolic and extracellular faces of the resulting bilayer. This forms a continuous, spherical lipid bilayer.
The arrangement of hydrophilic and hydrophobic heads of the lipid bilayer prevent polar solutes (e.g. amino acids, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, proteins, and ions) from diffusing across the membrane, but generally allows for the passive diffusion of hydrophobic molecules. This affords the cell the ability to control the movement of these substances via transmembrane protein complexes such as pores and gates.
Flippases and Scramblases concentrate phosphatidyl serine, which carries a negative charge, on the inner membrane. Along with NANA, this creates an extra barrier to charged moities moving through the membrane.
Membranes serve diverse functions in eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. One important role is to regulate the movement of materials into and out of cells. The phospholipid bilayer structure (fluid mosaic model) with specific membrane proteins accounts for the selective permeability of the membrane and passive and active transport mechanisms. In addition, membranes in prokaryotes and in the mitochondria and chloroplasts of eukaryotes facilitate the synthesis of ATP through chemiosmosis.
The apical membrane of a polarized cell is the part of the plasma membrane that forms its lumenal surface, distinct from the basolateral membrane. This is particularly evident in epithelial and endothelial cells, but also describes other polarized cells, such as neurons.
The basolateral membrane of a polarized cell is the part of the plasma membrane that forms its basal and lateral surfaces, distinct from the Apical membrane (or lumenal) surface. This is particularly evident in epithelial cells, but also describes other polarized cells, such as neurons.
"Basolateral membrane" is a compound phrase referring to the terms basal (base) membrane and lateral (side) membrane, which, especially in epithelial cells, are essentially functionally identical in composition and activity. Proteins (such as ion channels and pumps) are free to move from the basal to the lateral surface of the cell or vice versa in accordance with the fluid mosaic model.
Tight junctions that join epithelial cells near their apical surface prevent the migration of proteins to the apical membrane. The basal and lateral surfaces thus remain roughly equivalent to one another, yet distinct from the apical surface.
The fluid mosaic model can be seen when the membrane proteins of two cells (e.g., a human cell and a mouse cell) are tagged with different-coloured fluorescent labels. When the two cells are fused, the two colours intermix, indicating that the proteins are free to move in the 2D plane.
Proteins in the cell membranes may be integral or peripheral. Peripheral proteins are present on only one side of the protein, and integral proteins span the entire membrane. The hydrophobiic central layer is anchored in the lipid blayer by hydrophobic bonds, and hydrophillic regions protrude into the extracellular and intracellular fluids. The lipid component of the cell membrane is responsible for the permiability of hydrophobic molecules and small uncharge polar molecules to freely pass through. Large uncharged polar molecules and ions need to be moved across the membrane via transporters (carriers) and channels.
In all cases, the mechanical tension in the membrane has an effect on the rate of exchange. In some cells, usually having a smooth shape, the membrane tension and area are interrelated by elastic and dynamical mechanical properties, and the time-dependent interrelation is sometimes called homeostasis, area regulation or tension regulation.
The cell membrane consists of three classes of amphipathic lipids: phospholipids, glycolipids, and steroids. The amount of each depends upon the type of cell, but in the majority of cases phospholipids are the most abundant. In RBC studies, 30% of the plasma membrane is lipid.
The fatty chains in phospholipids and glycolipids usually contain an even number of carbon atoms, typically between 16 and 20. The 16- and 18-carbon fatty acids are the most common. Fatty acids may be saturated or unsaturated, with the configuration of the double bonds nearly always cis. The length and the degree of unsaturation of fatty acids chains have a profound effect on membranes fluidity as unsaturated lipids create a kink, preventing the fatty acids from packing together as tightly, thus decreasing the melting point (increasing the fluidity) of the membrane. The ability of some organisms to regulate the fluidity of their cell membranes by altering lipid composition is called homeoviscous adaptation.
The entire membrane is held together via non-covalent interaction of hydrophobic tails, however the structure is quite fluid and not fixed rigidly in place. Phospholipid molecules in the cell membrane are "fluid" in the sense that they are free to diffuse and exhibit rapid lateral diffusion along the layer in which they are present. However, movement of phospholipid molecules between layers is not energetically favourable and does not occur to an appreciable extent. Lipid rafts and caveolae are examples of cholesterol-enriched microdomains in the cell membrane.
In animal cells cholesterol is normally found dispersed in varying degrees throughout cell membranes, in the irregular spaces between the hydrophobic tails of the membrane lipids, where it confers a stiffening and strengthening effect on the membrane.
The penultimate sugar is galactose and the terminal sugar is sialic acid, as the sugar backbone is modified in the golgi apparatus. Sialic acid carries a negative charge, providing an external barrier to charged particles.
| Integral proteins|
or transmembrane proteins
|Span the membrane and have a hydrophilic cytosolic domain, which interacts with internal molecules, a hydrophobic membrane-spanning domain that anchors it within the cell membrane, and a hydrophilic extracellular domain that interacts with external molecules. The hydrophobic domain consists of one, multiple, or a combination of α-helices and β sheet protein motifs.||Ion channels, proton pumps, G protein-coupled receptor|
|Lipid anchored proteins||Covalently-bound to single or multiple lipid molecules; hydrophobically insert into the cell membrane and anchor the protein. The protein itself is not in contact with the membrane.||G proteins|
|Peripheral proteins||Attached to integral membrane proteins, or associated with peripheral regions of the lipid bilayer. These proteins tend to have only temporary interactions with biological membranes, and, once reacted the molecule, dissociates to carry on its work in the cytoplasm.||Some enzymes, some hormones|
The cell membrane, being exposed to the outside environment, is an important site of cell-cell communication. As such, a large variety of protein receptors and identification proteins, such as antigens, are present on the surface of the membrane. Functions of membrane proteins can also include cell-cell contact, surface recognition, cytoskeleton contact, signaling, enzymatic activity, or transporting substances across the membrane.
Most membrane proteins must be inserted in some way into the membrane. For this to occur, an N-terminus "signal sequence" of amino acids directs proteins to the endoplasmic reticulum, which inserts the proteins into a lipid bilayer. Once inserted, the proteins is then transported to its final destination in vesicles, where the vesicle fuses with the target membrane.