Cell Membrane

Cell membrane (also called the plasma membrane, plasmalemma, or "phospholipid bilayer") is a selectively permeable lipid bilayer found in all cells. It contains a wide variety of biological molecules, primarily proteins and lipids, which are involved in a vast array of cellular processes such as cell adhesion, ion channel conductance and cell signaling. The plasma membrane also serves as the attachment point for both the intracellular cytoskeleton and, if present, the cell wall.

The cell membrane surrounds the cytoplasm of a cell and, in animal cells, physically separates the intracellular components from the extracellular environment, thereby serving a function similar to that of skin. In fungi, some bacteria, and plants, an additional cell wall forms the outermost boundary; however, the cell wall plays mostly a mechanical support role rather than a role as a selective boundary. The cell membrane also plays a role in anchoring the cytoskeleton to provide shape to the cell, and in attaching to the extracellular matrix to help group cells together in the formation of tissues.

The barrier is selectively permeable and able to regulate what enters and exits the cell, thus facilitating the transport of materials needed for survival. The movement of substances across the membrane can be either passive, occurring without the input of cellular energy, or active, requiring the cell to expend energy in moving it. The membrane also maintains the cell potential.

Specific proteins embedded in the cell membrane can act as molecular signals that allow cells to communicate with each other. Protein receptors are found ubiquitously and function to receive signals from both the environment and other cells. These signals are transduced into a form that the cell can use to directly effect a response. Other proteins on the surface of the cell membrane serve as "markers" that identify a cell to other cells. The interaction of these markers with their respective receptors forms the basis of cell-cell interaction in the immune system.

Lipid bilayer
The cell membrane consists primarily of a thin layer of amphipathic phospholipids which spontaneously arrange so that the hydrophobic "tail" regions are shielded from the surrounding polar fluid, causing the more hydrophilic "head" regions to associate with the cytosolic and extracellular faces of the resulting bilayer. This forms a continuous, spherical lipid bilayer approximately 7 nm thick, barely discernible with a transmission electron microscope.

The arrangement of hydrophilic and hydrophobic heads of the lipid bilayer prevent polar solutes (e.g. amino acids, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, proteins, and ions) from diffusing across the membrane, but generally allows for the passive diffusion of hydrophobic molecules. This affords the cell the ability to control the movement of these substances via transmembrane protein complexes such as pores and gates.

Flippases and Scramblases concentrate phosphatidyl serine, which carries a negative charge, on the inner membrane. Along with NANA, this creates an extra barrier to charged moities moving through the membrane.

Membranes serve diverse functions in eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. One important role is to regulate the movement of materials into and out of cells. The phospholipid bilayer structure (fluid mosaic model) with specific membrane proteins accounts for the selective permeability of the membrane and passive and active transport mechanisms. In addition, membranes in prokaryotes and in the mitochondria and chloroplasts of eukaryotes facilitate the synthesis of ATP through chemiosmosis.

Integral membrane proteins

The cell membrane contains many integral membrane proteins, which pepper the entire surface. These structures, which can be visualized by electron microscopy or fluorescence microscopy, can be found on the inside of the membrane, the outside, or membrane spanning. These may include integrins, cadherins, desmosomes, clathrin-coated pits, caveolaes, and different structures involved in cell adhesion.

Membrane skeleton

The cytoskeleton is found underlying the cell membrane in the cytoplasm and provides a scaffolding for membrane proteins to anchor to, as well as forming organelles that extend from the cell. Anchoring proteins restricts them to a particular cell surface — for example, the apical surface of epithelial cells that line the vertebrate gut — and limits how far they may diffuse within the bilayer. The cytoskeleton is able to form appendage-like organelles, such as cilia, which are microtubule-based extensions covered by the cell membrane, and filopodia, which are actin-based extensions. These extensions are ensheathed in membrane and project from the surface of the cell in order to sense the external environment and/or make contact with the substrate or other cells. The apical surfaces of epithelial cells are dense with actin-based finger-like projections known as microvilli, which increase cell surface area and thereby increase the absorption rate of nutrients. Localized decoupling of the cytoskeleton and cell membrane results in formation of a bleb.

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