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Plasma Membranes

The membrane surrounding a cell, called the plasma membrane, forms the boundary that separates the living cell from its non-living surroundings.
Although the plasma membrane (arrowed) is only about 8 nm thick, it is responsible for six main functions.
Animal cell

Plant cell

To isolate and protect the cell cytoplasm from the external environment.

To regulate the exchange of essential substances between the cytoplasm and the external environment (semi-permeable).

To receive chemical messages (hormones) and relay the messages to the inside of the cell (nucleus).

To identify the cell as belonging to a particular type of cell or self/non-self, or to recognize and identify other cells, perhaps even foreign, harmful cells.

Attachment to the cytoskeleton or to other neighboring cells.

Carry out chemical reactions by enzymes embedded in the membrane.

The Plasma Membrane

A plasma membrane is common to all cells. It forms their outer limit.
Bacteria, fungi, and plant cells have a cell wall, but it is a structurally distinct feature and lies outside the plasma membrane.
Plasma membrane
This colored Bacillus megaterium cell clearly shows the plasma membrane, which lies inside the distinct structure of the cell wall.

Cell wall

Membrane Structure
The currently accepted model for the structure of the plasma membrane is the fluid mosaic model. Consists of a double layer of phospholipids. Each phospholipid consists of a polar head and two non polar tails. The two layers are held together primarily by hydrophobic interactions of the tails, which are much weaker than covalent bonds.

Double layer of phospholipids (lipid bilayer)

Hydrophilic end Hydrophobic end

Membrane Proteins
Transport proteins
Regulate the movement of water-soluble molecules (usually ions) through the membrane. Includes channel or carrier proteins.

Membrane Proteins
Receptor proteins
Set off cellular responses when specific molecules, such as hormones or nutrients, bond to them. Can trigger a cell to increase its metabolic rate or undergo cell division, for example.

Membrane Proteins
Recognition or Marker proteins
The identification tags of the cell. Contain carbohydrate chains attached to the protein which do the provides identification. Identifies what individual the cell belongs to and what type of cell it is (muscle, liver, etc.). Cells can recognize other cells markers and trigger immune responses if the cell detected is foreign.

Membrane Structure
Glycoproteins play an important role in cellular recognition and immune responses. They help stabilize the membrane structure. Glycolipids act as surface receptors and stabilize the membrane.

Some proteins, called peripheral proteins, are stuck to the surface of the membrane.

Some proteins completely penetrate the phospholipid layer. These proteins may control the movement of specific molecules into and out of the cell.

Fluid Mosaic Model

This name comes from the fact that when viewed from above, the membranes look like a shifting mosaic of tiles, where the phospholipids form a viscous, fluid grout, and the proteins are the tiles, sliding sluggishly around.

Membrane Structure
Glycolipids also have a role in helping cells to aggregate in the formation of tissues.

Cholesterol in the membrane disturbs the close packing of the phospholipids and keeps the membrane more fluid.

Some substances, particularly ions and carbohydrates, are transported across the membrane via the proteins.

Some substances, including water, are transported directly through the phospholipid bilayer.