Facilitated Diffusion: Passive Transport Aided by Proteins

Two types of transport proteins that carry out facilitated diffusion. In both cases, the protein can transport the solute in either direction, but the net movement is down the concentration gradient of the solute.

Source: Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology (p. 135). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

Facilitated Diffusion: Passive Transport Aided by Proteins (Campbell Biology)

Let’s look more closely at how water and certain hydrophilic solutes cross a membrane. Many polar molecules and ions impeded by the lipid bilayer of the membrane diffuse passively with the help of transport proteins that span the membrane. This phenomenon is called facilitated diffusion. Cell biologists are still trying to learn exactly how various transport proteins facilitate diffusion. Most transport proteins are very specific: They transport some substances but not others.

The two types of transport proteins are channel proteins and carrier proteins. Channel proteins simply provide corridors that allow specific molecules or ions to cross the membrane. The hydrophilic passageways provided by these proteins can allow water molecules or small ions to diffuse very quickly from one side of the membrane to the other. Aquaporins, the water channel proteins, facilitate the massive levels of diffusion of water (osmosis) that occur in plant cells and in animal cells such as red blood cells. Certain kidney cells also have a high number of aquaporins, allowing them to reclaim water from urine before it is excreted. If the kidneys did not perform this function, you would excrete about 180 L of urine per day—and have to drink an equal volume of water!

Channel proteins that transport ions are called ion channels. Many ion channels function as gated channels, which open or close in response to a stimulus. For some gated channels, the stimulus is electrical. In a nerve cell, for example, an ion channel opens in response to an electrical stimulus, allowing a stream of potassium ions to leave the cell. (See the potassium ion channel at the beginning of this chapter.) This restores the cell’s ability to fire again. Other gated channels open or close when a specific substance other than the one to be transported binds to the channel. These gated channels are also important in the functioning of the nervous system.

Carrier proteins, such as the glucose transporter mentioned earlier, seem to undergo a subtle change in shape that somehow translocates the solute-binding site across the membrane. Such a change in shape may be triggered by the binding and release of the transported molecule. Like ion channels, carrier proteins involved in facilitated diffusion result in the net movement of a substance down its concentration gradient. No energy input is thus required: This is passive transport.


Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology. Pearson Education. Kindle Edition. https://www.pearson.com/us/higher-education/series/Campbell-Biology-Series/2244849.html

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