Cell membrane
Overview
The cell membrane or plasma membrane is a biological membrane
Biological membrane
A biological membrane or biomembrane is an enclosing or separatingmembrane that acts as a selective barrier, within or around a cell. It consists of a lipid bilayer with embedded proteins that may constitute close to 50% of membrane content...

 that separates the interior
Cytoplasm
The cytoplasm is a small gel-like substance residing between the cell membrane holding all the cell's internal sub-structures , except for the nucleus. All the contents of the cells of prokaryote organisms are contained within the cytoplasm...

 of all cells from the outside environment. The cell membrane is selectively permeable
Semipermeable membrane
A semipermeable membrane, also termed a selectively permeable membrane, a partially permeable membrane or a differentially permeable membrane, is a membrane that will allow certain molecules or ions to pass through it by diffusion and occasionally specialized "facilitated diffusion".The rate of...

 to ions and organic molecules and controls the movement of substances in and out of cells. It basically protects the cell from outside forces. It consists of the lipid bilayer
Lipid bilayer
The lipid bilayer is a thin membrane made of two layers of lipid molecules. These membranes are flat sheets that form a continuous barrier around cells. The cell membrane of almost all living organisms and many viruses are made of a lipid bilayer, as are the membranes surrounding the cell nucleus...

 with embedded protein
Protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

s. Cell membranes are involved in a variety of cellular processes such as cell adhesion
Cell adhesion
Cellular adhesion is the binding of a cell to a surface, extracellular matrix or another cell using cell adhesion molecules such as selectins, integrins, and cadherins. Correct cellular adhesion is essential in maintaining multicellular structure...

, ion conductivity and cell signaling
Cell signaling
Cell signaling is part of a complex system of communication that governs basic cellular activities and coordinates cell actions. The ability of cells to perceive and correctly respond to their microenvironment is the basis of development, tissue repair, and immunity as well as normal tissue...

 and serve as the attachment surface for several extracellular structures, including the cell wall
Cell wall
The cell wall is the tough, usually flexible but sometimes fairly rigid layer that surrounds some types of cells. It is located outside the cell membrane and provides these cells with structural support and protection, and also acts as a filtering mechanism. A major function of the cell wall is to...

, glycocalyx
Glycocalyx
Glycocalyx is a general term referring to extracellular polymeric material produced by some bacteria, epithelia and other cells. The slime on the outside of a fish is considered a glycocalyx. The term was initially applied to the polysaccharide matrix excreted by epithelial cells forming a...

, and intracellular cytoskeleton
Cytoskeleton
The cytoskeleton is a cellular "scaffolding" or "skeleton" contained within a cell's cytoplasm and is made out of protein. The cytoskeleton is present in all cells; it was once thought to be unique to eukaryotes, but recent research has identified the prokaryotic cytoskeleton...

.
The cell membrane surrounds the cytoplasm
Cytoplasm
The cytoplasm is a small gel-like substance residing between the cell membrane holding all the cell's internal sub-structures , except for the nucleus. All the contents of the cells of prokaryote organisms are contained within the cytoplasm...

 of a cell and, in animal cells, physically separates the intracellular
Intracellular
Not to be confused with intercellular, meaning "between cells".In cell biology, molecular biology and related fields, the word intracellular means "inside the cell".It is used in contrast to extracellular...

 components from the extracellular
Extracellular
In cell biology, molecular biology and related fields, the word extracellular means "outside the cell". This space is usually taken to be outside the plasma membranes, and occupied by fluid...

 environment.
Encyclopedia
The cell membrane or plasma membrane is a biological membrane
Biological membrane
A biological membrane or biomembrane is an enclosing or separatingmembrane that acts as a selective barrier, within or around a cell. It consists of a lipid bilayer with embedded proteins that may constitute close to 50% of membrane content...

 that separates the interior
Cytoplasm
The cytoplasm is a small gel-like substance residing between the cell membrane holding all the cell's internal sub-structures , except for the nucleus. All the contents of the cells of prokaryote organisms are contained within the cytoplasm...

 of all cells from the outside environment. The cell membrane is selectively permeable
Semipermeable membrane
A semipermeable membrane, also termed a selectively permeable membrane, a partially permeable membrane or a differentially permeable membrane, is a membrane that will allow certain molecules or ions to pass through it by diffusion and occasionally specialized "facilitated diffusion".The rate of...

 to ions and organic molecules and controls the movement of substances in and out of cells. It basically protects the cell from outside forces. It consists of the lipid bilayer
Lipid bilayer
The lipid bilayer is a thin membrane made of two layers of lipid molecules. These membranes are flat sheets that form a continuous barrier around cells. The cell membrane of almost all living organisms and many viruses are made of a lipid bilayer, as are the membranes surrounding the cell nucleus...

 with embedded protein
Protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

s. Cell membranes are involved in a variety of cellular processes such as cell adhesion
Cell adhesion
Cellular adhesion is the binding of a cell to a surface, extracellular matrix or another cell using cell adhesion molecules such as selectins, integrins, and cadherins. Correct cellular adhesion is essential in maintaining multicellular structure...

, ion conductivity and cell signaling
Cell signaling
Cell signaling is part of a complex system of communication that governs basic cellular activities and coordinates cell actions. The ability of cells to perceive and correctly respond to their microenvironment is the basis of development, tissue repair, and immunity as well as normal tissue...

 and serve as the attachment surface for several extracellular structures, including the cell wall
Cell wall
The cell wall is the tough, usually flexible but sometimes fairly rigid layer that surrounds some types of cells. It is located outside the cell membrane and provides these cells with structural support and protection, and also acts as a filtering mechanism. A major function of the cell wall is to...

, glycocalyx
Glycocalyx
Glycocalyx is a general term referring to extracellular polymeric material produced by some bacteria, epithelia and other cells. The slime on the outside of a fish is considered a glycocalyx. The term was initially applied to the polysaccharide matrix excreted by epithelial cells forming a...

, and intracellular cytoskeleton
Cytoskeleton
The cytoskeleton is a cellular "scaffolding" or "skeleton" contained within a cell's cytoplasm and is made out of protein. The cytoskeleton is present in all cells; it was once thought to be unique to eukaryotes, but recent research has identified the prokaryotic cytoskeleton...

.

Function

The cell membrane surrounds the cytoplasm
Cytoplasm
The cytoplasm is a small gel-like substance residing between the cell membrane holding all the cell's internal sub-structures , except for the nucleus. All the contents of the cells of prokaryote organisms are contained within the cytoplasm...

 of a cell and, in animal cells, physically separates the intracellular
Intracellular
Not to be confused with intercellular, meaning "between cells".In cell biology, molecular biology and related fields, the word intracellular means "inside the cell".It is used in contrast to extracellular...

 components from the extracellular
Extracellular
In cell biology, molecular biology and related fields, the word extracellular means "outside the cell". This space is usually taken to be outside the plasma membranes, and occupied by fluid...

 environment. Fungi, bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

 and plant
Plant
Plants are living organisms belonging to the kingdom Plantae. Precise definitions of the kingdom vary, but as the term is used here, plants include familiar organisms such as trees, flowers, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. The group is also called green plants or...

s also have the cell wall
Cell wall
The cell wall is the tough, usually flexible but sometimes fairly rigid layer that surrounds some types of cells. It is located outside the cell membrane and provides these cells with structural support and protection, and also acts as a filtering mechanism. A major function of the cell wall is to...

 which provides a mechanical support for the cell and precludes the passage of larger molecules
Macromolecule
A macromolecule is a very large molecule commonly created by some form of polymerization. In biochemistry, the term is applied to the four conventional biopolymers , as well as non-polymeric molecules with large molecular mass such as macrocycles...

. The cell membrane also plays a role in anchoring the cytoskeleton
Cytoskeleton
The cytoskeleton is a cellular "scaffolding" or "skeleton" contained within a cell's cytoplasm and is made out of protein. The cytoskeleton is present in all cells; it was once thought to be unique to eukaryotes, but recent research has identified the prokaryotic cytoskeleton...

 to provide shape to the cell, and in attaching to the extracellular matrix
Extracellular matrix
In biology, the extracellular matrix is the extracellular part of animal tissue that usually provides structural support to the animal cells in addition to performing various other important functions. The extracellular matrix is the defining feature of connective tissue in animals.Extracellular...

 and other cells to help group cells together to form tissues
Tissue (biology)
Tissue is a cellular organizational level intermediate between cells and a complete organism. A tissue is an ensemble of cells, not necessarily identical, but from the same origin, that together carry out a specific function. These are called tissues because of their identical functioning...

.

The membrane is differentially permeable
Semipermeable membrane
A semipermeable membrane, also termed a selectively permeable membrane, a partially permeable membrane or a differentially permeable membrane, is a membrane that will allow certain molecules or ions to pass through it by diffusion and occasionally specialized "facilitated diffusion".The rate of...

 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 transporting it. The membrane also maintains the cell potential. The cell membrane thus works as a selective filter that allows only certain things to come inside or go outside the cell. To do so, the membrane employs a number of transport mechanisms:

1. Diffusion
Diffusion
Molecular diffusion, often called simply diffusion, is the thermal motion of all particles at temperatures above absolute zero. The rate of this movement is a function of temperature, viscosity of the fluid and the size of the particles...

 : Some substances (small molecules, ions) such as carbon dioxide (CO2), oxygen (O2), and water, can move across the plasma membrane by diffusion, which is a passive transport process.

2. Osmosis
Osmosis
Osmosis is the movement of solvent molecules through a selectively permeable membrane into a region of higher solute concentration, aiming to equalize the solute concentrations on the two sides...

 : Because the membrane acts as a barrier for certain molecules and ions, they can occur in different concentrations on the two sides of the membrane. Such a concentration difference across a semipermeable membrane can set up a osmotic flow for the solvent, in this case water. Water can thus be transported across the membrane by osmosis.

3. Mediated Transport : Nutrients such as sugars and materials of growth such as amino acid must enter the cell, and the waste of metabolism must leave. Such molecules are moved across the membrane by special proteins called transport proteins or permeases. Permeases form a small passageway through the membrane, enabling the solute molecule to cross the phospholipid bilayer. Permeases are usually quite specific, recognizing and transporting only a limited group of chemical substances, often even only a single substance.

4. Endocytosis
Endocytosis
Endocytosis is a process by which cells absorb molecules by engulfing them. It is used by all cells of the body because most substances important to them are large polar molecules that cannot pass through the hydrophobic plasma or cell membrane...

 : Endocytosis is the process in which cells absorb molecules by engulfing them. The plasma membrane creates a small deformation inward, called an invagination, in which the substance to be transported is captured. The deformation then pinches off from the membrane on the inside of the cell, creating a vesicle containing the captured substance. Endocytosis is a pathway for internalizing solid particles (cell eating or phagocytosis), small molecules and ions (cell drinking or pinocytosis), and macromolecules. Endocytosis requires energy and is thus a form of active transport.

5. Exocytosis
Exocytosis
Exocytosis , also known as 'The peni-cytosis', is the durable process by which a cell directs the contents of secretory vesicles out of the cell membrane...

 : Just as material can be brought into the cell by invagination and formation of a vesicle, the membrane of a vesicle can be fused with the plasma membrane, extruding its contents to the surrounding medium. This is the process of exocytosis. Exocytosis occurs in various cells to remove undigested residues of substances brought in by endocytosis, to secrete substances such as hormones and enzymes, and to transport a substance completely across a cellular barrier. In the process of exocytosis, the undigested waste-containing food vacuole or the secretory vesicle budded from Golgi apparatus, is first moved by cytoskeleton from the interior of the cell to the surface. The vesicle membrane comes in contact with the plasma membrane. The lipid molecules of the two bilayers rearrange themselves and the two membranes are, thus, fused. A passage is formed in the fused membrane and the vesicles discharges its contents outside the cell.

Prokaryotes

Gram-negative bacteria have a plasma membrane and an outer membrane separated by a periplasmic space
Periplasmic space
The periplasmic space or periplasm is a space between the peptidoglycan cell wall and inner membrane of Gram-negative bacteria or the equivalent space outside the inner membrane of Gram-positive bacteria. It may constitute up to 40% of the total cell volume in Gram-negative species, and is...

. Other prokaryotic species have only a plasma membrane. Prokaryotic cells are also surrounded by a cell wall
Cell wall
The cell wall is the tough, usually flexible but sometimes fairly rigid layer that surrounds some types of cells. It is located outside the cell membrane and provides these cells with structural support and protection, and also acts as a filtering mechanism. A major function of the cell wall is to...

 composed of peptidoglycan (amino acid and sugar). Some eukaryotic cells also have cells walls, but none that are made of peptidoglycan.

Fluid mosaic model

According to the fluid mosaic model of S.J. Singer and G.L. Nicolson (1972), biological membranes can be considered as a two-dimensional liquid in which all lipid and protein molecules diffuse more or less easily. Although the lipid bilayers that form the basis of the membranes do indeed form two-dimensional liquids by themselves, the plasma membrane also contains a large quantity of proteins, which provide more structure. Examples of such structures are protein-protein complexes, pickets and fences formed by the actin-based cytoskeleton
Cytoskeleton
The cytoskeleton is a cellular "scaffolding" or "skeleton" contained within a cell's cytoplasm and is made out of protein. The cytoskeleton is present in all cells; it was once thought to be unique to eukaryotes, but recent research has identified the prokaryotic cytoskeleton...

, and potentially lipid raft
Lipid raft
The plasma membrane of cells is made of a combination of glycosphingolipids and protein receptors organized in glycolipoprotein microdomains termed lipid rafts...

s.

Lipid bilayer

Lipid bilayers go through a self assembly process in the formation of membranes. 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
Lipid bilayer
The lipid bilayer is a thin membrane made of two layers of lipid molecules. These membranes are flat sheets that form a continuous barrier around cells. The cell membrane of almost all living organisms and many viruses are made of a lipid bilayer, as are the membranes surrounding the cell nucleus...

. Forces such as Van der Waal, electrostatic, hyrdogen bonds, and noncovalent interactions, are all forces that contribute to the formation of the lipid bilayer. Overall, hydrophobic interactions are the major driving force in the formation of lipid bilayers.

Lipid bilayers have very low permeability for ions and most polar molecules.The arrangement of hydrophilic heads and hydrophobic tails 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
Transmembrane protein
A transmembrane protein is a protein that goes from one side of a membrane through to the other side of the membrane. Many TPs function as gateways or "loading docks" to deny or permit the transport of specific substances across the biological membrane, to get into the cell, or out of the cell as...

 complexes such as pores and gates.

Flippase
Flippase
Flippases are a family of transmembrane lipid transporter enzymes located in the membrane responsible for aiding the movement of phospholipid molecules between the two leaflets that compose a cell's membrane...

s and scramblase
Scramblase
Scramblase is a protein responsible for the translocation of phospholipids between the two monolayers of a lipid bilayer of a cell membrane. In humans, phospholipid scramblases constitute a family of five homologous proteins that are named as hPLSCR1–hPLSCR5. Scramblases are members of the...

s concentrate phosphatidyl serine, which carries a negative charge, on the inner membrane. Along with NANA
Sialic acid
Sialic acid is a generic term for the N- or O-substituted derivatives of neuraminic acid, a monosaccharide with a nine-carbon backbone. It is also the name for the most common member of this group, N-acetylneuraminic acid...

, this creates an extra barrier to charged moieties moving through the membrane.

Membranes serve diverse functions in eukaryotic
Eukaryote
A eukaryote is an organism whose cells contain complex structures enclosed within membranes. Eukaryotes may more formally be referred to as the taxon Eukarya or Eukaryota. The defining membrane-bound structure that sets eukaryotic cells apart from prokaryotic cells is the nucleus, or nuclear...

 and prokaryotic
Prokaryote
The prokaryotes are a group of organisms that lack a cell nucleus , or any other membrane-bound organelles. The organisms that have a cell nucleus are called eukaryotes. Most prokaryotes are unicellular, but a few such as myxobacteria have multicellular stages in their life cycles...

 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.

Membrane polarity

The apical membrane of a polarized cell is the surface of the plasma membrane that faces the lumen
Lumen (anatomy)
A lumen in biology is the inside space of a tubular structure, such as an artery or intestine...

. This is particularly evident in epithelial and endothelial cells, but also describes other polarized cells, such as neuron
Neuron
A neuron is an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information by electrical and chemical signaling. Chemical signaling occurs via synapses, specialized connections with other cells. Neurons connect to each other to form networks. Neurons are the core components of the nervous...

s.

The basolateral membrane of a polarized cell is the surface of the plasma membrane that forms its basal and lateral surfaces. It faces towards the interstitium, and away from the lumen
Lumen (anatomy)
A lumen in biology is the inside space of a tubular structure, such as an artery or intestine...

.

"Basolateral membrane" is a compound phrase referring to the terms basal (base) membrane and lateral (side) membrane, which, especially in epithelial cells, are identical in composition and activity. Proteins (such as ion channels and pumps
Ion pump (biology)
In biology, an ion transporter, also called an ion pump, is a transmembrane protein that moves ions across a plasma membrane against their concentration gradient, in contrast to ion channels, where ions go through passive transport...

) 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 junction
Tight junction
Tight junctions, or zonula occludens, are the closely associated areas of two cells whose membranes join together forming a virtually impermeable barrier to fluid. It is a type of junctional complex present only in vertebrates...

s that join epithelial cells near their apical surface prevent the migration of proteins from the basolateral membrane to the apical membrane. The basal and lateral surfaces thus remain roughly equivalent to one another, yet distinct from the apical surface.

Integral membrane proteins

The cell membrane contains many integral membrane protein
Integral membrane protein
An integral membrane protein is a protein molecule that is permanently attached to the biological membrane. Proteins that cross the membrane are surrounded by "annular" lipids, which are defined as lipids that are in direct contact with a membrane protein...

s, which pepper the entire surface. These structures, which can be visualized by electron microscopy or fluorescence microscopy, can be found on the inside of the membrane, the outside, or may span the entire membrane
Transmembrane protein
A transmembrane protein is a protein that goes from one side of a membrane through to the other side of the membrane. Many TPs function as gateways or "loading docks" to deny or permit the transport of specific substances across the biological membrane, to get into the cell, or out of the cell as...

. These may include integrins, cadherins, desmosome
Desmosome
A desmosome , also known as macula adherens , is a cell structure specialized for cell-to-cell adhesion...

s, clathrin-coated pits
Clathrin
Clathrin is a protein that plays a major role in the formation of coated vesicles. Clathrin was first isolated and named by Barbara Pearse in 1975. It forms a triskelion shape composed of three clathrin heavy chains and three light chains. When the triskelia interact they form a polyhedral lattice...

, caveolae
Caveolae
In biology, caveolae , which are a special type of lipid raft, are small invaginations of the plasma membrane in many vertebrate cell types, especially in endothelial cells and adipocytes....

s, and different structures involved in cell adhesion
Cell adhesion
Cellular adhesion is the binding of a cell to a surface, extracellular matrix or another cell using cell adhesion molecules such as selectins, integrins, and cadherins. Correct cellular adhesion is essential in maintaining multicellular structure...

. Integral proteins are the most abundant type of protein to span the lipid bilayer. They interact widely with hydrocarbon chains of membrane lipids and can be released by agents that compete for the same nonpolar interactions.

Peripheral membrane proteins

Peripheral proteins are proteins that are bounded to the membrane by electrostatic interactions and hydrogen bonding with the hydrophilic phospholipid heads. Many of these proteins can be found bounded to the surfaces of integral proteins on either the cytoplasimic side of the cell or the extracellular side of the membrane. Some are anchored to the bilayer through covalent bond with a fatty acid.

Membrane skeleton

The cytoskeleton is found underlying the cell membrane in the cytoplasm and provides a scaffolding for membrane proteins to anchor to, as well as forming organelles that extend from the cell. Indeed, cytoskeletal elements interact extensively and intimately with the cell membrane. Anchoring proteins restricts them to a particular cell surface — for example, the apical surface of epithelial cells that line the vertebrate
Vertebrate
Vertebrates are animals that are members of the subphylum Vertebrata . Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, with currently about 58,000 species described. Vertebrates include the jawless fishes, bony fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds...

 gut
Gastrointestinal tract
The human gastrointestinal tract refers to the stomach and intestine, and sometimes to all the structures from the mouth to the anus. ....

 — and limits how far they may diffuse within the bilayer. The cytoskeleton is able to form appendage-like organelles, such as cilia, which are microtubule
Microtubule
Microtubules are a component of the cytoskeleton. These rope-like polymers of tubulin can grow as long as 25 micrometers and are highly dynamic. The outer diameter of microtubule is about 25 nm. Microtubules are important for maintaining cell structure, providing platforms for intracellular...

-based extensions covered by the cell membrane, and filopodia
Filopodia
Filopodia are slender cytoplasmic projections that extend beyond the leading edge of lamellipodia in migrating cells. They contain actin filaments cross-linked into bundles by actin-binding proteins, e.g. fascin and fimbrin. Filopodia form focal adhesions with the substratum, linking it to the...

, which are actin
Actin
Actin is a globular, roughly 42-kDa moonlighting protein found in all eukaryotic cells where it may be present at concentrations of over 100 μM. It is also one of the most highly-conserved proteins, differing by no more than 20% in species as diverse as algae and humans...

-based extensions. These extensions are ensheathed in membrane and project from the surface of the cell in order to sense the external environment and/or make contact with the substrate or other cells. The apical surfaces of epithelial cells are dense with actin-based finger-like projections known as microvilli, which increase cell surface area and thereby increase the absorption rate of nutrients. Localized decoupling of the cytoskeleton and cell membrane results in formation of a bleb
Bleb (cell biology)
In cell biology, a bleb is an irregular bulge in the plasma membrane of a cell caused by localized decoupling of the cytoskeleton from the plasma membrane...

.

Composition

Cell membranes contain a variety of biological molecules, notably lipids and proteins. Material is incorporated into the membrane, or deleted from it, by a variety of mechanisms:
  • Fusion of intracellular vesicle
    Vesicle (biology)
    A vesicle is a bubble of liquid within another liquid, a supramolecular assembly made up of many different molecules. More technically, a vesicle is a small membrane-enclosed sack that can store or transport substances. Vesicles can form naturally because of the properties of lipid membranes , or...

    s with the membrane (exocytosis
    Exocytosis
    Exocytosis , also known as 'The peni-cytosis', is the durable process by which a cell directs the contents of secretory vesicles out of the cell membrane...

    ) not only excretes the contents of the vesicle but also incorporates the vesicle membrane's components into the cell membrane. The membrane may form blebs around extracellular material that pinch off to become vesicles (endocytosis
    Endocytosis
    Endocytosis is a process by which cells absorb molecules by engulfing them. It is used by all cells of the body because most substances important to them are large polar molecules that cannot pass through the hydrophobic plasma or cell membrane...

    ).
  • If a membrane is continuous with a tubular structure made of membrane material, then material from the tube can be drawn into the membrane continuously.
  • Although the concentration of membrane components in the aqueous phase is low (stable membrane components have low solubility in water), there is an exchange of molecules between the lipid and aqueous phases.

Lipids

The cell membrane consists of three classes of amphipathic lipids: phospholipid
Phospholipid
Phospholipids are a class of lipids that are a major component of all cell membranes as they can form lipid bilayers. Most phospholipids contain a diglyceride, a phosphate group, and a simple organic molecule such as choline; one exception to this rule is sphingomyelin, which is derived from...

s, glycolipid
Glycolipid
Glycolipids are lipids with a carbohydrate attached. Their role is to provide energy and also serve as markers for cellular recognition.-Metabolism:...

s, and cholesterol
Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a complex isoprenoid. Specifically, it is a waxy steroid of fat that is produced in the liver or intestines. It is used to produce hormones and cell membranes and is transported in the blood plasma of all mammals. It is an essential structural component of mammalian cell membranes...

s. The amount of each depends upon the type of cell, but in the majority of cases phospholipids are the most abundant. In RBC
Red blood cell
Red blood cells are the most common type of blood cell and the vertebrate organism's principal means of delivering oxygen to the body tissues via the blood flow through the circulatory system...

 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 acid chains have a profound effect on membrane fluidity as unsaturated lipids create a kink, preventing the fatty acids from packing together as tightly, thus decreasing the melting temperature
Melting temperature
Melting temperature may refer to:* Melting point, the temperature at which a substance changes from solid to liquid state.* DNA melting temperature, the temperature at which a DNA double helix dissociates into single strands....

 (increasing the fluidity) of the membrane. The ability of some organisms to regulate the fluidity of their cell membranes
Membrane fluidity
In biology, the membrane fluidity refers to the viscosity of the lipid bilayer of a cell membrane.The membrane phospholipids incorporate fatty acids of varying length and saturation...

 by altering lipid composition is called homeoviscous adaptation
Homeoviscous adaptation
The maintenance of proper cell membrane fluidity is of critical importance for the function and integrity of the cell, essential for the mobility and function of embedded proteins and lipids, diffusion of proteins and other molecules laterally across the membrane for signaling reactions, and...

.

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. Under physiological condition
Physiological condition
Physiological condition or, more often "physiological conditions" is a term used in biology, biochemistry, and medicine. It refers to conditions of the external or internal milieu that may occur in nature for that organism or cell system, in contrast to artificial laboratory conditions...

s phospholipid molecules in the cell membrane are in the liquid crystalline state
Liquid crystal
Liquid crystals are a state of matter that have properties between those of a conventional liquid and those of a solid crystal. For instance, an LC may flow like a liquid, but its molecules may be oriented in a crystal-like way. There are many different types of LC phases, which can be...

. It means the lipid molecules are free to diffuse and exhibit rapid lateral diffusion along the layer in which they are present. However, the exchange of phospholipid molecules between intracellular and extracellular leaflets of the bilayer is a very slow process. Lipid rafts and caveolae are examples of cholesterol
Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a complex isoprenoid. Specifically, it is a waxy steroid of fat that is produced in the liver or intestines. It is used to produce hormones and cell membranes and is transported in the blood plasma of all mammals. It is an essential structural component of mammalian cell membranes...

-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.


Phospholipids forming lipid vesicles

Lipid vesicles or lisosomes are circular pockets that are enclosed by a lipid bilayer. These structures are used in laboratories to study the effects of chemicals in cells by delivering these chemicals directly to the cell, as well as getting more insight into cell membrane permeability. Lipid vesicles and liposomes are formed by first suspending a lipid in an aqueous solution then agitating the mixture through sonication, resulting in a vesicle. By measuring the rate of efflux from that of the inside of the vesicle to the ambient solution, allows researcher to better understand membrane permeability. Vesicles can be formed with molecules and ions inside the vesicle by forming the vesicle with the desired molecule or ion present in the solution. Proteins can also be embedded into the membrane through solubilizing the desired proteins in the presence of detergents and attaching them to the phospholipids in which the liposome is formed. These provide researchers with a tool to examine various membrane protein functions.

Carbohydrates

Plasma membranes also contain carbohydrates, predominantly glycoprotein
Glycoprotein
Glycoproteins are proteins that contain oligosaccharide chains covalently attached to polypeptide side-chains. The carbohydrate is attached to the protein in a cotranslational or posttranslational modification. This process is known as glycosylation. In proteins that have segments extending...

s, but with some glycolipids (cerebroside
Cerebroside
Cerebrosides is the common name for a group of glycosphingolipids called monoglycosylceramides which are important components in animal muscle and nerve cell membranes.They consist of a ceramide with a single sugar residue at the 1-hydroxyl moiety...

s and ganglioside
Ganglioside
Ganglioside is a molecule composed of a glycosphingolipid with one or more sialic acids linked on the sugar chain. The 60+ known gangliosides differ mainly in the position and number of NANA residues.It is a component of the cell plasma membrane that modulates cell signal transduction events...

s). For the most part, no glycosylation
Glycosylation
Glycosylation is the reaction in which a carbohydrate, i.e. a glycosyl donor, is attached to a hydroxyl or other functional group of another molecule . In biology glycosylation refers to the enzymatic process that attaches glycans to proteins, lipids, or other organic molecules...

 occurs on membranes within the cell; rather generally glycosylation occurs on the extracellular surface of the plasma membrane.

The glycocalyx
Glycocalyx
Glycocalyx is a general term referring to extracellular polymeric material produced by some bacteria, epithelia and other cells. The slime on the outside of a fish is considered a glycocalyx. The term was initially applied to the polysaccharide matrix excreted by epithelial cells forming a...

 is an important feature in all cells, especially epithelia
Epithelium
Epithelium is one of the four basic types of animal tissue, along with connective tissue, muscle tissue and nervous tissue. Epithelial tissues line the cavities and surfaces of structures throughout the body, and also form many glands. Functions of epithelial cells include secretion, selective...

 with microvilli. Recent data suggest the glycocalyx participates in cell adhesion, lymphocyte homing, and many others.

The penultimate sugar is galactose
Galactose
Galactose , sometimes abbreviated Gal, is a type of sugar that is less sweet than glucose. It is a C-4 epimer of glucose....

 and the terminal sugar is sialic acid
Sialic acid
Sialic acid is a generic term for the N- or O-substituted derivatives of neuraminic acid, a monosaccharide with a nine-carbon backbone. It is also the name for the most common member of this group, N-acetylneuraminic acid...

, as the sugar backbone is modified in the golgi apparatus
Golgi apparatus
The Golgi apparatus is an organelle found in most eukaryotic cells. It was identified in 1898 by the Italian physician Camillo Golgi, after whom the Golgi apparatus is named....

. Sialic acid carries a negative charge, providing an external barrier to charged particles.

Proteins

Proteins within the membrane are key to the functioning of the overall membrane. These proteins mainly transport chemicals and information across the membrane. Every membrane has a varying degree of protein content. Proteins can be in the form of peripheral or integral.
Type Description Examples
Integral proteins
or transmembrane proteins
Span the membrane and have a hydrophilic cytosol
Cytosol
The cytosol or intracellular fluid is the liquid found inside cells, that is separated into compartments by membranes. For example, the mitochondrial matrix separates the mitochondrion into compartments....

ic 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
Alpha helix
A common motif in the secondary structure of proteins, the alpha helix is a right-handed coiled or spiral conformation, in which every backbone N-H group donates a hydrogen bond to the backbone C=O group of the amino acid four residues earlier...

 and β sheet
Beta sheet
The β sheet is the second form of regular secondary structure in proteins, only somewhat less common than the alpha helix. Beta sheets consist of beta strands connected laterally by at least two or three backbone hydrogen bonds, forming a generally twisted, pleated sheet...

 protein motif
Structural motif
In a chain-like biological molecule, such as a protein or nucleic acid, a structural motif is a supersecondary structure, which appears also in a variety of other molecules...

s.
Ion channels, proton pump
Proton pump
A proton pump is an integral membrane protein that is capable of moving protons across a cell membrane, mitochondrion, or other organelle. Mechanisms are based on conformational changes of the protein structure or on the Q cycle.-Function:...

s, G protein-coupled receptor
G protein-coupled receptor
G protein-coupled receptors , also known as seven-transmembrane domain receptors, 7TM receptors, heptahelical receptors, serpentine receptor, and G protein-linked receptors , comprise a large protein family of transmembrane receptors that sense molecules outside the cell and activate inside signal...

Lipid anchored protein
Lipid anchored protein
In lipid-anchored proteins, a covalently attached fatty acid such as palmitate or myristate serves to anchor them to either face of the cell membrane. Examples include G proteins and certain kinases. It is believed that the fatty acid chain inserts and assumes a place in the bilayer structure of...

s
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 protein
G protein
G proteins are a family of proteins involved in transmitting chemical signals outside the cell, and causing changes inside the cell. They communicate signals from many hormones, neurotransmitters, and other signaling factors. G protein-coupled receptors are transmembrane receptors...

s
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 plays host to a large amount of protein that is responsible for its various activities. The amount of protein differs between species and according to function, however the typical amount in a cell membrane is 50%. These proteins are undoubtedly important to a cell: Approximately a third of the gene
Gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

s in yeast
Yeast
Yeasts are eukaryotic micro-organisms classified in the kingdom Fungi, with 1,500 species currently described estimated to be only 1% of all fungal species. Most reproduce asexually by mitosis, and many do so by an asymmetric division process called budding...

 code specifically for them, and this number is even higher in multicellular organisms.

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 antigen
Antigen
An antigen is a foreign molecule that, when introduced into the body, triggers the production of an antibody by the immune system. The immune system will then kill or neutralize the antigen that is recognized as a foreign and potentially harmful invader. These invaders can be molecules such as...

s, 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
Endoplasmic reticulum
The endoplasmic reticulum is an organelle of cells in eukaryotic organisms that forms an interconnected network of tubules, vesicles, and cisternae...

, which inserts the proteins into a lipid bilayer. Once inserted, the proteins are then transported to their final destination in vesicles, where the vesicle fuses with the target membrane.

Variation

The cell membrane has different lipid and protein compositions in distinct types of cells and may have therefore specific names for certain cell types:
  • Sarcolemma
    Sarcolemma
    The sarcolemma is the cell membrane of a muscle cell . It consists of a true cell membrane, called the plasma membrane, and an outer coat made up of a thin layer of polysaccharide material that contains numerous thin collagen fibrils...

     in myocytes
  • Oolemma in oocytes
  • Historically, the plasma membrane was also referred to as the plasmalemma.

Permeability


The permeability of a membrane is the ease with which molecules pass through it. These molecules are known as permeant molecules. Permeability depends mainly on the electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

 of the molecule and to a lesser extent the molar mass
Molar mass
Molar mass, symbol M, is a physical property of a given substance , namely its mass per amount of substance. The base SI unit for mass is the kilogram and that for amount of substance is the mole. Thus, the derived unit for molar mass is kg/mol...

 of the molecule. Due to the cell membrane's hydrophobic nature, electrically neutral and small molecules pass through the membrane easier than charged, large ones.

The inability of charged molecules to pass through the cell membrane results in pH parturition
PH parturition
pH partition is the tendency for acids to accumulate in basic fluid compartments, and bases to accumulate in acidic compartments. The reason for this phenomenon is that acids become negatively electric charged in basic fluids, since they donate a proton. On the other hand, bases become positively...

 of substances throughout the fluid compartments of the body.

See also

  • Cell damage, including damage to the cell membrane
  • Ammonium transporter
    Ammonium transporter
    Ammonium transporters are a family of proteins which transport ammonium ions across the cell membrane.-Human proteins containing this domain :RHAG, RHBG, RHCE, RHCG, RHD-Further reading:* [...

  • AP2 adaptors
    AP2 adaptors
    The AP2 adaptor complex is a multimeric protein that works on the plasma membrane to internalize cargo in clathrin-mediated endocytosis. It is a stable complex of four adaptins which give rise to a structure that has a core domain and two appendage domains attached to the core domain by polypeptide...

  • Bacterial cell structure
    Bacterial cell structure
    Bacteria, despite their simplicity, contain a well-developed cell structure which is responsible for many of their unique biological properties. Many structural features are unique to bacteria and are not found among archaea or eukaryotes...

  • Bangstad syndrome
    Bangstad syndrome
    Bangstad syndrome is a severe, inherited congenital disorder associated with abnormalities of the cell membrane.It was characterized in 1989.-Presentation:...

  • Cell adhesion
    Cell adhesion
    Cellular adhesion is the binding of a cell to a surface, extracellular matrix or another cell using cell adhesion molecules such as selectins, integrins, and cadherins. Correct cellular adhesion is essential in maintaining multicellular structure...

  • Efflux (microbiology)
    Efflux (microbiology)
    Active efflux is a mechanism responsible for extrusion of toxic substances and antibiotics outside the cell; this is considered to be a vital part of xenobiotic metabolism...

  • Elasticity of cell membranes
    Elasticity of cell membranes
    A cell membrane defines a boundary between the living cell and its environment. It consists of lipids, proteins, carbohydrates etc. Lipids and proteins are dominant components of membranes. One of the principal types of lipids in membranes is phospholipid. A phospholipid molecule has a polar...

  • Gram-negative bacteria
  • Gram-positive bacteria
  • trogocytosis
    Trogocytosis
    Trogocytosis is a process whereby lymphocytes conjugated to antigen-presenting cells extract surface molecules from these cells and express them on their own surface...

  • Paracytophagy
    Paracytophagy
    Paracytophagy is the cellular process whereby a cell engulfs a protrusion which extends from a neighboring cell. This protrusion may contain material which is actively transferred between the cells...

  • phagocytosis
  • endocytosis
    Endocytosis
    Endocytosis is a process by which cells absorb molecules by engulfing them. It is used by all cells of the body because most substances important to them are large polar molecules that cannot pass through the hydrophobic plasma or cell membrane...


External links

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