In the remainder of this chapter, we discuss several representative functional systems of the cell that make it a living organism.
Ingestion by the Cell—Endocytosis
If a cell is to live and grow and reproduce, it must obtain nutrients and other substances from the surrounding fluids. Most substances pass through the cell membrane by diffusion and active transport.
Diffusion involves simple movement through the membrane caused by the random motion of the molecules of the substance; substances move either through cell membrane pores or, in the case of lipid-soluble substances, through the lipid matrix of the membrane.
Active transport involves the actual carrying of a substance through the membrane by a physical protein structure that penetrates all the way through the membrane. These active transport mechanisms are so important to cell function that they are presented in detail in Chapter 4.
Very large particles enter the cell by a specialized function of the cell membrane called endocytosis. The principal forms of endocytosis are pinocytosis and phagocytosis. Pinocytosis means ingestion of minute particles that form vesicles of extracellular fluid and particulate constituents inside the cell cytoplasm. Phagocytosis means ingestion of large particles, such as bacteria, whole cells, or portions of degenerating tissue.
Pinocytosis. Pinocytosis occurs continually in the cell membranes of most cells, but it is especially rapid in some cells. For instance, it occurs so rapidly in macrophages that about 3 per cent of the total macrophage membrane is engulfed in the form of vesicles each minute. Even so, the pinocytotic vesicles are so small—usually only 100 to 200 nanometers in diameter—that most of them can be seen only with the electron microscope.
Pinocytosis is the only means by which most large macromolecules, such as most protein molecules, can enter cells. In fact, the rate at which pinocytotic vesicles form is usually enhanced when such macro-molecules attach to the cell membrane.
Figure 2-11 demonstrates the successive steps of pinocytosis, showing three molecules of protein attaching to the membrane. These molecules usually attach to specialized protein receptors on the surface of the membrane that are specific for the type of protein that is to be absorbed. The receptors generally are concentrated in small pits on the outer surface of the cell membrane, called coated pits. On the inside of the cell membrane beneath these pits is a latticework of fibrillar protein called clathrin, as well as other proteins, perhaps including contractile filaments of actin and myosin. Once the protein molecules have bound with the receptors, the surface properties of the local
Actin and myosin
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.