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Cell Membrane

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Cell Membrane
Cell Membrane

The cell membrane is a thin semi-permeable membrane that surrounds the cell's cytoplasm, enclosing its contents.

Image credit: Mariana Ruiz Villarreal

Cell Membrane

The cell membrane (plasma membrane) is a thin semi-permeable membrane that surrounds the cytoplasm of a cell. Its function is to protect the integrity of the interior of the cell by allowing certain substances into the cell, while keeping other substances out. It also serves as a base of attachment for the cytoskeleton in some organisms and the cell wall in others. Thus the cell membrane also serves to help support the cell and help maintain its shape. Animal cells, plant cells, prokaryotic cells, and fungal cells have cell membranes.

Cell Membrane Structure

The cell membrane is primarily composed of a mix of proteins and lipids. Depending on the membrane’s location and role in the body, lipids can make up anywhere from 20 to 80 percent of the membrane, with the remainder being proteins. While lipids help to give membranes their flexibility, proteins monitor and maintain the cell's chemical climate and assist in the transfer of molecules across the membrane.
    Cell Membrane Lipids

  • Phospholipids are a major component of cell membranes. They form a lipid bilayer in which their hydrophillic (attracted to water) head areas spontaneously arrange to face the aqueous cytosol and the extracellular fluid, while their hydrophobic (repelled by water) tail areas face away from the cytosol and extracellular fluid. The lipid bilayer is semi-permeable, allowing only certain molecules to diffuse across the membrane.

  • Cholesterol is another lipid component of cell membranes. It helps to stiffen cell membranes and is not found in the membranes of plant cells.

  • Glycolipids are located on cell membrane surfaces and have a carbohydrate sugar chain attached to them. They help the cell to recognize other cells of the body.
    Cell Membrane Proteins

    Structural proteins help to give the cell support and shape. Cell membrane receptor proteins help cells communicate with their external environment through the use of hormones, neurotransmitters and other signaling molecules. Transport proteins, such as globular proteins, transport molecules across cell membranes through facilitated diffusion. Glycoproteins have a carbohydrate chain attached to them. They are embedded in the cell membrane and help in cell to cell communications and molecule transport across the membrane.

Eukaryotic Cell Structures

The cell membrane is only one component of a cell. The following cell structures can also be found in a typical animal eukaryotic cell:

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