The structure and function of cell membranes
The membranes of the cell have a variety of important functions made possible by their special structure. In this text the structure of the cell will be covered briefly before discussing eight important functions of cellmembranes:They provide the cell with integrity.They create osmosisThey divide the cell into separate compartments.They are the site of translation and formation of many proteins.Take part in transportThey create proton gradientsThey carry electrical signalsThey carry receptors sensing the extra cellular environmentAll these functions are very complex. One could have written a book onthe topic. In this text, due to space constraints, the functions can only bedescribed briefly. Much simplification will therefore be necessary.
The fundamental strocture of the cell membranes is the lipid bilayer. Thelipides are molecules with a hydrophilic end and a hydrphobic end. Thehydrophobic end has much in common with a fat. It has a glycerol withtwo fatty acids atached to it instead of three as in fats. The third site of theglycerol is atached to a phosphate group which makes out the hydrophilic part of the molecule. The hydrophilic and hydrophobic ends makes thelipids form spesial structures in water. In contact with water the lipidsstiks their hydrophobic parts together to avoid the polar water while thehydrophilic ends turn out and face the water. Because of this the lipidesforms double layered, continous sheets in water(see figure1).There are many types of lipids. The ones with phosphate attached to themare called phospholipids and are the most normal ones. The phosphate, or other hydrophilic end group has usually other groups attached to themlike saccarides, amino acids, or other organic groups. The hydrophobicfatty acid chains can differ in length, and they can have from none to amany double bonds in their hydrocarbon chain making them saturated,monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated.
The lipid bilayer forms the backbone or glue of the cell membranes. Butthe membranes are also full of proteins. The proteins have important