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Active Transport and Homeostasis

What Is Active Transport?


Some substances can pass into or out of a cell across the plasma membrane without
any energy required because they are moving from an area of higher concentration to
an area of lower concentration. This type of transport is called passive transport as you
learned in the last section. Other substances require energy to cross a plasma
membrane often because they are moving from an area of lower concentration to an
area of higher concentration. This type of transport is called active transport. The
energy for active transport comes from the energy-carrying molecule called ATP
(adenosine triphosphate). Active transport may also require transport proteins, such as
carrier proteins, which are embedded in the plasma membrane. Two types of active
transport are the sodium-potassium pump and vesicle transport.

The Sodium-Potassium Pump


The sodium-potassium pump is a mechanism of active transport that moves sodium
ions out of the cell and potassium ions into the cells — in all the trillions of cells in the
body! Both ions are moved from areas of lower to higher concentration, so energy is
needed for this "uphill" process. The energy is provided by ATP. The sodium-potassium
pump also requires carrier proteins. Carrier proteins bind with specific ions or
molecules, and in doing so, they change shape. As carrier proteins change shape, they
carry the ions or molecules across the membrane. The figure below shows in greater
detail how the sodium-potassium pump works and the specific roles played by carrier
proteins in this process.

Figure 5.7.25.7.2: The sodium-potassium pump. The sodium-potassium pump moves sodium
ions (Na++) out of the cell and potassium ions (K++) into the cell. First, three sodium ions bind
with a carrier protein in the cell membrane. Then, the carrier protein receives a phosphate
group from ATP. When ATP loses a phosphate group, energy is released. The carrier protein
changes shape, and as it does, it pumps the three sodium ions out of the cell. At that point, two
potassium ions bind to the carrier protein. The process is reversed, and the potassium ions are
pumped into the cell. (Mariana Ruiz Villarreal (User:LadyofHats/Wikimedia Commons), [public
domain]; Scheme sodium-potassium pump-en.svg)

To appreciate the importance of the sodium-potassium pump, you need to know more
about the roles of sodium and potassium in the body. Both are essential dietary
minerals, meaning you have to obtain them in the foods you eat. Both sodium and
potassium are also electrolytes, meaning that they dissociate into ions (charged
particles) in solution, which allows them to conduct electricity. Normal body functions
require a very narrow range of concentrations of sodium and potassium ions in body
fluids, both inside and outside of cells.
 Sodium is the principal ion in the fluid outside of cells. Normal sodium
concentrations are about 10 times higher outside than inside of cells.
 Potassium is the principal ion in the fluid inside of cells. Normal potassium
concentrations are about 30 times higher inside than outside of cells.
These differences in concentration create an electrical gradient across the cell
membrane, called membrane potential. Tightly controlling the membrane potential is
critical for vital body functions, including the transmission of nerve impulses and the
contraction of muscles. A large percentage of the body's energy goes to maintaining
this potential across the membranes of its trillions of cells with the sodium-potassium
pump.
Vesicle Transport
Some molecules, such as proteins, are too large to pass through the plasma membrane,
regardless of their concentration inside and outside the cell. Very large molecules cross
the plasma membrane with a different sort of help, called vesicle transport. Vesicle
transport requires energy, so it is also a form of active transport. There are two types
of vesicle transport: endocytosis and exocytosis. Both types are shown in the figure
below.

Endocytosis
Figure 5.7.35.7.3. The image illustrates three types of Endocytosis cell transport: Phagocytosis,
Pinocytosis, and Receptor-mediated endocytosis. Endocytosis is a process whereby cells absorb
material (molecules such as proteins) from the outside by engulfing it with their cell membrane.
It is used by all cells of the body because most substances important to them are polar and
consist of big molecules, and thus cannot pass through the hydrophobic plasma membrane.
(Mariana Ruiz Villarreal LadyofHats; [public domain]; via Wikimedia.org; Endocytosis types.svg)

Endocytosis is a type of vesicle transport that moves a substance into the cell. The plasma
membrane completely engulfs the substance, a vesicle pinches off from the membrane, and the
vesicle carries the substance into the cell. When an entire cell or other solid particle is engulfed,
the process is called phagocytosis. When fluid is engulfed, the process is called pinocytosis.
When the content is taken in specifically with the help of receptors on the plasma membrane, it
is called receptor-mediated endocytosis.

Exocytosis
Figure 5.7.45.7.4: Exocytosis is much like endocytosis in reverse. Material destined for export is
packaged into a vesicle inside the cell. The membrane of the vesicle fuses with the cell
membrane, and the contents are released into the extracellular space. (OpenStax [CC BY 4.0 ];
via Wikimedia.org; 0310 Exocytosis.jpg)

Exocytosis is a type of vesicle transport that moves a substance out of the cell. A vesicle
containing the substance moves through the cytoplasm to the cell membrane. Then, the vesicle
membrane fuses with the cell membrane, and the substance is released outside the cell.

Homeostasis and Cell Function


For a cell to function normally, a stable state must be maintained inside the cell. For
example, the concentration of salts, nutrients, and other substances must be kept
within a certain range. The process of maintaining stable conditions inside a cell (or an
entire organism) is homeostasis. Homeostasis requires constant adjustments because
conditions are always changing both inside and outside the cell. The processes
described in this and previous lessons play important roles in homeostasis. By moving
substances into and out of cells, they keep conditions within normal ranges inside the
cells and the organism as a whole.