Membrane Proteins and Their Functions


Campbell Biology

Now we come to the mosaic aspect of the fluid mosaic model. Somewhat like a tile mosaic, a membrane is a collage of different proteins, often clustered together in groups, embedded in the fluid matrix of the lipid bilayer. In the plasma membrane of red blood cells alone, for example, more than 50 kinds of proteins have been found so far. Phospholipids form the main fabric of the membrane, but proteins determine most of the membrane’s functions. Different types of cells contain different sets of membrane proteins, and the various membranes within a cell each have a unique collection of proteins.

There are two major populations of membrane proteins: integral proteins and peripheral proteins. Integral proteins penetrate the hydrophobic interior of the lipid bilayer. The majority are transmembrane proteins, which span the membrane; other integral proteins extend only partway into the hydrophobic interior. The hydrophobic regions of an integral protein consist of one or more stretches of non-polar amino acids, typically 20–30 amino acids in length, usually coiled into α helices. The hydrophilic parts of the molecule are exposed to the aqueous solutions on either side of the membrane. Some proteins also have one or more hydrophilic channels that allow passage through the membrane of hydrophilic substances. Peripheral proteins are not embedded in the lipid bilayer at all; they are loosely bound to the surface of the membrane, often to exposed parts of integral proteins.

On the cytoplasmic side of the plasma membrane, some membrane proteins are held in place by attachment to the cytoskeleton. And on the extracellular side, certain membrane proteins may attach to materials outside the cell. For example, in animal cells, membrane proteins may be attached to fibers of the extracellular matrix. These attachments combine to give animal cells a stronger framework than the plasma membrane alone could provide.

A single cell may have cell-surface membrane proteins that carry out several different functions, such as transport through the cell membrane, enzymatic activity, or attaching a cell to either a neighboring cell or the extracellular matrix. Furthermore, a single membrane protein may itself carry out multiple functions. Thus, the membrane is not only a structural mosaic, with many proteins embedded in the membrane, but also a functional mosaic, carrying out a range of functions.

Proteins on a cell’s surface are important in the medical field. For example, a protein called CD4 on the surface of immune cells helps the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infect these cells, leading to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Despite multiple exposures to HIV, however, a small number of people do not develop AIDS and show no evidence of HIV-infected cells. Comparing their genes with the genes of infected individuals, researchers learned that resistant people have an unusual form of a gene that codes for an immune cell-surface protein called CCR5. Further work showed that although CD4 is the main HIV receptor, HIV must also bind to CCR5 as a “co-receptor” to infect most cells. An absence of CCR5 on the cells of resistant individuals, due to the gene alteration, prevents the virus from entering the cells.

This information has been key to developing a treatment for HIV infection. Interfering with CD4 causes dangerous side effects because of its many important functions in cells. Discovery of the CCR5 co-receptor provided a safer target for development of drugs that mask this protein and block HIV entry. One such drug, maraviroc (brand name Selzentry), was approved for treatment of HIV in 2007 and is now being tested to determine whether this drug might also work to prevent HIV infection in uninfected, at-risk patients.

Source: Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology (p. 129). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.
Source: Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology (p. 129). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.


Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology. Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.


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