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Movement of material through cell membrane






SESSION (2017-2021)


Transport across a Cell Membrane
The cell membrane is one of the great multi-taskers of biology. It provides structure for the cell,
protects cytosolic contents from the environment, and allows cells to act as specialized units. A
membrane is the cell’s interface with the rest of the world - it’s gatekeeper, if you will. This
phospholipid bilayer determines what molecules can move into or out of the cell, and so is in
large part responsible for maintaining the delicate homeostasis of each cell.There are two types
of movement in cell membrane one is active transport and other is passive transport.

Passive Transport

Passive transport is a movement of ions and other atomic or molecular substances across cell
membranes without need of energy input. The rate of passive transport depends on the
permeability of the cell membrane, which, in turn, depends on the organization and
characteristics of the membrane lipids and proteins. The four main kinds of passive transport are
simple diffusion, facilitated diffusion, and osmosis.

Diffusion is the net movement of material from an area of high concentration to an area with
lower concentration. The difference of concentration between the two areas is often termed as
the concentration gradient, and diffusion will continue until this gradient has been eliminated.
Since diffusion moves materials from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower
concentration, it is described as moving solutes "down the concentration gradient" (compared
with active transport, which often moves material from area of low concentration to area of
higher concentration, and therefore referred to as moving the material "against the concentration
gradient"). However, in many cases (e.g. passive drug transport) the driving force of passive
transport can not be simplified to the concentration gradient. If there are different solutions at the
two sides of the membrane with different equilibrium solubility of the drug, the difference in
degree of saturation is the driving force of passive membrane transport. Borbas, E.; et al. (2016).
"Investigation and Mathematical Description of the Real Driving Force of Passive Transport of
Drug Molecules from Supersaturated Solutions". Molecular Pharmaceutics. 13: 3816–3826.
doi:10.1021/acs.molpharmaceut.6b00613 It is also true for supersaturated solutions which are
more and more important owing to the spreading of the application of amorphous solid Pratt,
Charlotte Amerley; Voet, Donald; Voet, Judith G. (2002). Fundamentals of biochemistry
upgrade. New York: Wiley. pp. 264–266.

Facilitated diffusion
Facilitated diffusion (also known as facilitated transport or passive-mediated transport) is the
process of spontaneous passive transport (as opposed to active transport) of molecules or ions
across a biological membrane via specific transmembrane integral proteins. Pratt et.al, Charlotte
Amerley; Voet, Donald; Voet, Judith G. (2002). Fundamentals of biochemistry upgrade. New
York: Wiley. pp. 264–266. ISBN 0-471-41759-9. Being passive, facilitated transport does not
directly require chemical energy from ATP hydrolysis in the transport step itself; rather,
molecules and ions move down their concentration gradient reflecting its diffusive nature.

Facilitated diffusion is different from free diffusion in several ways. First, the transport relies on
molecular binding between the cargo and the membrane-embedded channel or carrier protein.
Second, the rate of facilitated diffusion is saturable with respect to the concentration difference
between the two phases; unlike free diffusion which is linear in the concentration difference.
Third, the temperature dependence of facilitated transport is substantially different due to the
presence of an activated binding event, as compared to free diffusion where the dependence on
temperature is mild. Pratt, Charlotte Amerley; Voet, Donald; Voet, Judith G. (2002).
Fundamentals of biochemistry upgrade. New York: Wiley. pp. 264–266. ISBN 0-471-41759-9.

Polar molecules and large ions dissolved in water cannot diffuse freely across the plasma
membrane due to the hydrophobic nature of the fatty acid tails of the phospholipids that make up
the lipid bilayer. Only small, non-polar molecules, such as oxygen and carbon dioxide, can
diffuse easily across the membrane. Hence, no nonpolar molecules are transported by proteins in
the form of transmembrane channels. These channels are gated, meaning that they open and
close, and thus deregulate the flow of ions or small polar molecules across membranes,
sometimes against the osmotic gradient. Larger molecules are transported by transmembrane
carrier proteins, such as permeases, that change their conformation as the molecules are carried

across (e.g. glucose or amino acids). Non-polar molecules, such as lipids, are poorly soluble in
water. They are transported through aqueous compartments of cells or through extracellular
space by water-soluble carriers (e.g. retinol binding protein). The metabolites are not altered
because no energy is required for facilitated diffusion. Only permease changes its shape in order
to transport metabolites. The form of transport through a cell membrane in which a metabolite is
modified is called group translocation transportation.

Glucose, sodium ions, and chloride ions are just a few examples of molecules and ions that must
efficiently cross the plasma membrane but to which the lipid bilayer of the membrane is virtually
impermeable. Their transport must therefore be "facilitated" by proteins that span the membrane
and provide an alternative route or bypass mechanism. Various attempts have been made by
engineers to mimic the process of facilitated transport in synthetic (i.e., non-biological)
membranes for use in industrial-scale gas and liquid separations, but these have met with limited
success to date, most often for reasons related to poor carrier stability and/or dissociation of the
carrier from the passive transport.

Osmosis is the diffusion of water through a semi permeable membrane according to the
concentration gradient of water across the membrane. Whereas diffusion transports material
across membranes and within cells, osmosis transports only water across a membrane and the
membrane limits the diffusion of solutes in the water. Osmosis is a special case of diffusion.
Water, like other substances, moves from an area of higher concentration to one of lower
concentration. Imagine a beaker with a semi permeable membrane, separating the two sides or
halves. On both sides of the membrane, the water level is the same, but there are different
concentrations on each side of a dissolved substance, or solute, that cannot cross the membrane.
If the volume of the water is the same, but the concentrations of solute are different, then there
are also different concentrations of water, the solvent, on either side of the membrane.

In figure osmosis, water always moves from an area of higher concentration (of water) to one of lower
concentration (of water). In this system, the solute cannot pass through the selectively permeable

A principle of diffusion is that the molecules move around and will spread evenly throughout the
medium if they can. However, only the material capable of getting through the membrane will
diffuse through it. In this example, the solute cannot diffuse through the membrane, but the water
can. Water has a concentration gradient in this system. Therefore, water will diffuse down its
concentration gradient, crossing the membrane to the side where it is less concentrated. This
diffusion of water through the membrane— osmosis —will continue until the concentration
gradient of water goes to zero. Osmosis proceeds constantly in living systems.


Tonicity describes the amount of solute in a solution. The measure of the tonicity of a solution,
or the total amount of solutes dissolved in a specific amount of solution, is called its osmolarity.
Three terms—hypotonic, isotonic, and hypertonic—are used to relate the osmolarity of a cell to
the osmolarity of the extracellular fluid that contains the cells. All three of these terms are a
comparison between two different solutions (for example, inside a cell compared to outside the
cell).In a hypotonic solution, such as tap water, the extracellular fluid has a lower concentration
of solutes than the fluid inside the cell, and water enters the cell. (In living systems, the point of
reference is always the cytoplasm, so the prefix hypo– means that the extracellular fluid has a
lower concentration of solutes, or a lower osmolarity, than the cell cytoplasm.) It also means that
the extracellular fluid has a higher concentration of water than does the cell. In this situation,
water will follow its concentration gradient and enter the cell. This may cause an animal cell to
burst, or lyses. In a hypertonic solution (the prefix hyper– refers to the extracellular fluid having
a higher concentration of solutes than the cell’s cytoplasm), the fluid contains less water than the
cell does, such as seawater. Because the cell has a lower concentration of solutes, the water will
leave the cell. In effect, the solute is drawing the water out of the cell. This may cause an animal
cell to shrivel, or crenate. In an isotonic solution, the extracellular fluid has the same osmolarity
as the cell. If the concentration of solutes of the cell matches that of the extracellular fluid, there
will be no net movement of water into or out of the cell. The cell will retain its “normal”
appearance. Blood cells in hypertonic, isotonic, and hypotonic solutions take on characteristic.

Figure 4 Osmotic pressure changes the shape of red blood cells in hypertonic, isotonic, and
hypotonic solutions. (credit: modification of work by Mariana Ruiz Villarreal)

Some organisms, such as plants, fungi, bacteria, and some protists, have cell walls that surround
the plasma membrane and prevent cell lysis. The plasma membrane can only expand to the limit
of the cell wall, so the cell will not lyse. In fact, the cytoplasm in plants is always slightly
hypertonic compared to the cellular environment, and water will always enter the plant cell if
water is available. This influx of water produces turgor pressure, which stiffens the cell walls of
the plant (Figure 5). In nonwoody plants, turgor pressure supports the plant. If the plant cells
become hypertonic, as occurs in drought or if a plant is not watered adequately, water will leave
the cell. Plants lose turgor pressure in this condition and wilt.

Figure 5 The turgor pressure within a plant cell depends on the tonicity of the solution that it is
bathed in. (credit: modification of work by Mariana Ruiz Villarreal)

Text adapted from: OpenStax, Concepts of Biology. OpenStax CNX. May 18, 2016 htt

Active transport
A fourth method for movement across the membrane is active transport. Active transport is the
movement of molecules across a membrane from a region of their lower concentration to a
region of their higher concentration—in the direction against the concentration gradient or other
obstructing factor (often a concentration gradient). In 1848, the German physiologist Emil du
Bois-Reymond suggested the possibility of active transport of substances across membranes.
There are two types of active transport – primary active transport that uses ATP, and secondary
active transport that uses an electrochemical gradient. An example of active transport in human
physiology is the uptake of glucose in the intestines.

Primary active transport

. Primary active transport, also called direct active transport, directly uses metabolic energy to
transport molecules across a membrane.Physiology: 7/7ch05/7ch05p11 Essentials of Human
Physiolog. Substances that are transported across the cell membrane by primary active transport

include metal ions, such as Na+, K+, Mg2+, and Ca2+. These charged particles require ion pumps
or ion channels to cross membranes and distribute through the body.

Most of the enzymes that perform this type of transport are transmembrane ATPases. A primary
ATPase universal to all animal life is the sodium-potassium pump, which helps to maintain the cell
potential. The sodium-potassium pump maintains the membrane potential by moving three Na+
ions out of the cell for every two . Reese, Jane B.; Urry, Lisa A.; Cain, Michael L.; Wasserman,
Steven A.; Minorsky, Peter V.; Jackson, Robert B. (2014). Tenth Edition, Campbell's Biology.
United States: Pearson Education Inc. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-321-77565-8 – via Tenth edition. K+
ions moved into the cell. Other sources of energy for Primary active transport are redox energy
and photon energy (light). An example of primary active transport using Redox energy is the
mitochondrial electron transport chain that uses the reduction energy of NADH to move protons
across the inner mitochondrial membrane against their concentration gradient. An example of
primary active transport using light energy are the proteins involved in photosynthesis that use the
energy of photons to create a proton gradient across the thylakoid membrane and also to create
reduction power in the form of NADPH.

The action of the sodium-potassium pump is an example of primary active transpo.

group and release of hydrogen ion then restores the carrier to its original conformation.Cooper,
Geoffrey (2009). The Cell: A Molecular Approach. Washington, DC: ASM PRESS. p. 65.
ISBN 9780878933006.

Types of primary active transporters

1. P-type ATPase: sodium potassium pump, calcium pump, proton pump
2. F-ATPase: mitochondrial ATP synthase, chloroplast ATP synthase
3. V-ATPase: vacuolar ATPase
4. ABC (ATP binding cassette) transporter: MDR, CFTR, etc.

Secondary active transport

In secondary active transport, also known as coupled transport or co transport, energy is used to
transport molecules across a membrane; however, in contrast to primary active transport, there is
no direct coupling of ATP; instead it relies upon the electrochemical potential difference created
by pumping ions in/out of the cell.[17] Permitting one ion or molecule to move down an
electrochemical gradient, but possibly against the concentration gradient where it is more
concentrated to that where it is less concentrated increases entropy and can serve as a source of
energy for metabolism (e.g. in ATP synthase). The energy derived from the pumping of protons
across a cell membrane is frequently used as the energy source in secondary active transport. In
humans, sodium (Na+) is a commonly co-transported ion across the plasma membrane, whose
electrochemical gradient is then used to power the active transport of a second ion or molecule
against In bacteria and small yeast cells, a commonly cotransported ion is hydrogen. Alberts B,
Johnson A, Lewis J, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. New York: Garland
Science; 2002. Carrier Proteins and Active Membrane Transport. Available from:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26896/ Hydrogen pumps are also used to create an
electrochemical gradient to carry out processes within cells such as in the electron transport
chain, an important function of cellular respiration that happens in the mitochondrion of the cell.[
Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. New York:
Garland Science; 2002. Electron-Transport Chains and Their Proton Pumps. Available from:

In August 1960, in Prague, Robert K. Crane presented for the first time his discovery of the
sodium-glucose cotransport as the mechanism for intestinal glucose absorption.[ Crane, Robert
K.; Miller, D.; Bihler, I. (1961). "The restrictions on possible mechanisms of intestinal transport
of sugars". In Kleinzeller, A.; Kotyk, A. Membrane Transport and Metabolism. Proceedings of a
Symposium held in Prague, August 22–27, 1960. Prague: Czech Academy of Sciences. pp. 439–
449. Crane's discovery of cotransport was the first ever ever proposal of flux coupling in biology.
Wright EM, Turk E (February 2004). "The sodium/glucose cotransport family SLC5". Pflügers
Arch. 447 (5): 510–8. doi:10.1007/s00424-003-1063-6. PMID 12748858. Crane in 1961 was the
first to formulate the cotransport concept to explain active transport [Story of Discovery: SGLT2
Inhibitors: Harnessing the Kidneys to Help Treat Diabetes.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive
and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
help-treat-diabetes.aspx]. Specifically, he proposed that the accumulation of glucose in the
intestinal epithelium across the brush border membrane was coupled to downhill Na+
transport cross the brush border. This hypothesis was rapidly tested, refined and extended [to]

encompass the active transport of a diverse range of molecules and ions into virtually every cell


Bulk transport
Main articles: Endocytosis and Exocytosis

Endocytosis and exocytosis are both forms of bulk transport that move materials into and out of
cells, respectively, via vesicles. Reece, Jane; Urry, Lisa; Cain, Michael; Wasserman, Steven;
Minorsky, Peter; Jackson, Robert (2014). Tenth Addition Campbell Biology. United States of
America: Pearson Education, Inc. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-321-77565-8 – via Tenth Addition.In the
case of endocytosis, the cellular membrane folds around the desired materials outside the
cell.Transport into the Cell from the Plasma Membrane: Endocytosis – Molecular Biology of the
Cell – NCBI Bookshelf. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov (2011-10-03). Retrieved on 2011-12-05.7] The
ingested particle becomes trapped within a pouch, known as a vesicle, inside the cytoplasm.
Often enzymes from lysosomes are then used to digest the molecules absorbed by this process.
Substances that enter the cell via signal mediated endocytosis include proteins, hormones and
growth factors. Paston, Ira; Willingham, Mark C. (1985). Endocytosis. Springer, Boston, MA.
pp 1-44. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-6904-6_1. ISBN 9781461569060. Viruses enter cells through
a form of endocytosis that involves their outer membrane fusing with the membrane of the cell.
This forces the viral DNA into the host cell.Jahn, Reinhard, and Thomas C Sudhof. “Membrane
Fusion and Exocytosis.” Membrane Fusion and Exocytosis | Annual Review of Biochemistry,
Annual Review of Biochemistry, July 1999,

Biologists distinguish two main types of endocytosis: pinocytosis and phagocytosis. Cell : Two
Major Process in Exchange Of Materials Between Cell And Environment Archived August 11,
2010, at the Wayback Machine.. Takdang Aralin (2009-10-26). Retrieved on 2011-12-05.

 In pinocytosis, cells engulf liquid particles (in humans this process occurs in the small intestine,
where cells engulf fat droplets).[ biology-online.org
 In phagocytosis, cells engulf solid particles.Courses.washington.edu. Retrieved on 2011-12-05.


Exocytosis involves the removal of substances through the fusion of the outer cell membrane and a
vesicle membrane Jahn, Reinhard, and Thomas C Sudhof. “Membrane Fusion and Exocytosis.”
Membrane Fusion and Exocytosis | Annual Review of Biochemistry, Annual Review of
Biochemistry, July 1999, www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.biochem.68.1.863.

An example of exocytosis would be the transmission of neurotransmitters across a synapse

between brain cells.