The Role of Membrane Carbohydrates in Cell to Cell Recognition

membrane carbohydrates
By LadyofHats Mariana Ruiz – Own work. Image renamed from File: Cell membrane detailed diagram.svg, Public Domain,

The Role of Membrane Carbohydrates in Cell to Cell Recognition (Campbell Biology)

Cell-cell recognition, a cell’s ability to distinguish one type of neighboring cell from another, is crucial to the functioning of an organism. It is important, for example, in the sorting of cells into tissues and organs in an animal embryo. It is also the basis for the rejection of foreign cells by the immune system, an important line of defense in vertebrate animals. Cells recognize other cells by binding to molecules, often containing carbohydrates, on the extracellular surface of the plasma membrane.

Membrane carbohydrates are usually short, branched chains of fewer than 15 sugar units. Some are covalently bonded to lipids, forming molecules called glycolipids. (Recall that glyco refers to carbohydrate.) However, most are covalently bonded to proteins, which are thereby glycoproteins.

The carbohydrates on the extracellular side of the plasma membrane vary from species to species, among individuals of the same species, and even from one cell type to another in a single individual. The diversity of the molecules and their location on the cell’s surface enable membrane carbohydrates to function as markers that distinguish one cell from another. For example, the four human blood types designated A, B, AB, and O reflect variation in the carbohydrate part of glycoproteins on the surface of red blood cells.


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

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