This chapter is vaguely relevant to Section E(ii) of the 2017 CICM Primary Syllabus, which expect the exam candidate to "explain the cell membrane and properties". Historically, this has actually not been incredibly fertile soil for past paper inquiries. In Part 1 documents, only Question 16 from the initially paper of 2014 asked for particular details about the cellular membrane, and also even there the assessors were mostly interested in the mechanisms of carry throughout cell membranes instead of the (fascinating) properties of the membrane itself. Elsewbelow, the matter was touched upon even more briefly. In actual truth, it is rather tough to say what exactly constitutes a minimum level of understanding for this topic. The syllabus document is ever-uninformative, and the college answer to Concern 16 is a single paragraph which simply remarks that the topic of membrane structure was "mostly well spanned by a lot of candidates". Taking liberties suitable to an uncrucial topic, the writer has taken it upon himself to create a list of facts an ICU trainee might need to expectoprice during the memory retrieval exercise that is the CICM main.

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In summary:

The cell membrane is a physical and also chemical obstacle which separates the inside of the cell from the external environmentStructure of the cell membraneLiquid bilayer of lipid with embedded proteins (a "fluid mosaic"), 5 nm thickBilayer is created by amphipathic molecules (phosphate-affluent "heads" on the external and hydrophobic lipid "tails" on the insidePhysical properties of the cell membrane:Impermeable to water-soluble molecules (however not to water)Soft and flexibleSpontaneously susceptible to developing self-repairing poresComplace of the cell membrane:Lipids (50% by weight)​​​​​​Outer membrane: phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelinInner membrane: phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylinositolVariable quantities of cholesterolProteins (50% by weight)Integral proteins (transmembrane proteins and lipid-anchored proteins which are confined to only one side of the membrane)Peripheral proteins (surface)PolysaccharidesGlycosylated components of glycolipids and also glycoproteinsThese develop the cellular glycocalyxWater​​​​​​​Present out in between lipid molecules in a highly organised develop, as well as mass water in pores and also channelsIons​​​​​​​Adsorbed ions (eg. calcium, sodium)Attracted to the membrane by the intrinsic negative charge of the phospholipid heads


In the occasion that better reading or referrals are required, the 2nd edition of The Cell consists of a chapter on the "plasma membrane" which will certainly accomplish the minimum college demands, whatever before they may be. The precise very same answers are made slightly more accessible by Raicu & Popescu (2008), wright here well-referenced descriptions and explanations are readily available, but their book chapter is paywalled by Springer, and in the direction of its finish degeneprices right into thick dense math. For historical information, the original liquid mosaic model post by Singer et al (1972) is obtainable for cost-free, and also probabl;y worth analysis because this design is still in use (albeit with modificatioins). For a entirely unreasonable excess of detail (eg. a conversation of the power expense of stretching or bending the cell membrane) one may explore Rob Phillips" Membranes by the Numbers (2018).

Structure of the cell membrane

If one were ever asked to conveniently list the structural components and attributes of a cell membrane, one would certainly more than likely have to count on some kind of pre-memorised manuscript, bereason the majority of normal ICU trainees carry out not carry such indevelopment in their head. For this objective, a script was created:

The cell membrane is a physical and chemical obstacle which separates the inside of the cell from the external environmentIt is a liquid bilayer of lipid with installed proteins, in which the proteins and lipids are reasonably mobile over small distancesThe lipid bilayer consists of phospholipids, which are amphipathic molecules (i.e. wright here one finish of the molecule is hydrophilic and also the other finish is hydrophobic)The phospholipids selection themselves in a bilayer, through phosphate-wealthy "heads" on the external and also hydrophobic lipid "tails" on the insideThis bilayer is impermeable to water-soluble molecules (however not to water)

Interestingly, we"ve recognized that this thing is a lipid bilayer long before electron microscopy revealed this visually. This days ago to the 1930s. 

Anyway. How thick is this membrane? That"s quite challenging to develop exactly. The range of this structure is so tiny that even modern-day TEM techniques are unequal to the job of developing anypoint better than grainy low-res imeras, making it difficult to measure this exactly. Textbooks vary in their estimate of the exact phospholipid-to-phospholipid thickness, however most of them generate some numbers in the order of 5-10 nm:

The lower array of numbers (eg 4-5 nm) is usually referring to membranes of procaryotes, quoting data from authors like Gan et al (2008) that reported on the "standard design of purified, frozen-hydrated sacculi" (the sacculus being the peptidoglydeserve to polymer which is basically one huge bag-like molecule which wraps roughly a bacterial cell). Phillips (2018) has actually some terrific microphotographs via bit calipers which highlight the thickness of this structure. The Myxococcus  and Shewanella imperiods over were stolen shamelessly from his paper. 


It is additionally feasible to mathematically estimate the thickness of a lipid layer with some level of confidence. Irving Langmuir (1917) put a well-known (Avogadro"s) variety of palmitic acid molecules in a body of water and also then calculated the location spanned by each molecule, concluding that "the molecules arrange themselves on the surconfront with their long measurement vertical" - something which has actually been ultimately evidenced by several various other methods. In case you were wondering, the thickness of such a palmitic oil slick is 2.4 nanometres. For the typical eucaryotic phospholipid (eg. phosphatidylholines such as POPC and DLPC), the typical molecular size is around 2.1-2.7 nm, offering a bilayer thickness of roughly 4-6 nm.

The whole membrane, of course, ends up showing up thicker than this (hence the 7-10 nm estimates) because it is packed full of proteins and also polysaccharides, such that the whole membrane probably resembles a "cobblerock pavement" (Takamori et al, 2006) with the lipid bilayer acting as a thin mortar in between large thick clusters of transmembrane proteins. Aacquire borrowing (stealing) shamelessly from Phillips (2018), the diagram below demonstprices the family member sizes of these transmembrane structures.


Of course, this beautiful CGI diagram does not represent what the ICU trainee is most likely to create in the exam, as soon as the question asks them to "describe, via the assist of a diagram, the framework of the cell membrane". It would most likely look somepoint like this:


The minimal aspects meant from such a diagram are tough to reconstruct from college examiner comments to Concern 16. All they said was that the structure "was mainly well covered by a lot of candidates". Working from nopoint, one could conclude that the minimum more than likely consist of the following:

A lipid bilayer via plainly labelled hydrophobic heads and also hydrophilic tailsTransmembrane, integral and surface proteinsPolysaccharidesA membrane thickness Surface negative charge and also adsorbed ions

Chemical complace of the cell membrane

In a brief summary, the cell membrane is written of three primary forms of components:

Lipids (50%)Proteins (50%)Carbohydprice portions of glycolipids and glycoproteins (10%)


Water is existing in the membraneIons are connected through it

Lipid component of the cell membrane

Though tbelow are literally numerous different kinds of lipid molecules in eextremely cell (and also eincredibly organelle has a slightly various mix), tbelow are a couple of which are of essential importance, their mass accountancy for the majority of complete membrane lipid:

Outer half of the bilayer:sphingomyelinInner fifty percent of the bilayer:phosphatidylethanolaminephosphatidylserinephosphatidylinositol

More detail have the right to be fund in Thomas Heimburg"s post (2009); his table is reproduced below to show the excessive varicapacity in lipid composition between cell kinds and even within the exact same cell:


Cholesterol is also a significant membrane component and also is existing in a relatively variable amount, relying on the cell and species. For instance, huguy RBCs contain around 20% cholesterol by weight, while rat liver mitochondria contain only 3% (Heimburg, 2009). Of the different lipids in the cell membrane, some play a role which has some sort of one-of-a-kind physiological meaning, whereas others appear to be essentially filler and also ballast. Of the distinct lipids, phosphatidylinositol is associated in second messenger units, and phosphatidylserine is a signal molecule which is everted onto the external side of the membrane when a cell is undergoing apoptosis, signalling to macropheras that it needs to be demoliburned. In addition, the negative charge of the inner lipid heads offers the inner side of the membrane a net negative charge, which helps preserve the transmembrane charge gradient.

Protein component of the cell membrane

The cell membrane is complete of proteins (50% of it by mass is proteins). The feature and also task of these points is much even more interesting than their structural properties. If one had actually to say something around them, one would certainly classify them thus:

Integral proteinsTransmembrane proteins which expectancy over both sides of the membraneLipid-anchored proteins which are confined to only one side of the membrane Peripheral proteins (surface) which do not interact through the hydrophobic core of the membrane

That"s how they are described in Molecular Cell Biology, fourth ed. Historically, the department of surchallenge proteins and transmembrane proteins was by whether or not they were soluble in polar solvents. Peripheral proteins would disfix and also drift away, they would certainly say, and integral transmembrane proteins would certainly reprimary stuck in the membrane till you use a non-polar solvent or detergent to disrupt the lipid bilayer. 

Generally these proteins do not sit inertly in the lipid bilayer. They are able to diffusage laterally (unless firmly anchored to some item of cytoskeleton) and also they deserve to revolve randomly. 

Polysaccharide component of the cell membrane

There are carbohydrate components in the cell membrane, which are primarily someexactly how integrated into the lipid or protein components of the membrane, i.e. as glycolipids or glycoproteins. Typically speaking, the glycosylated bits of proteins and also lipids are sticking out right into the extracellular surconfront of the membrane, developing a carbohydprice layer on the external surconfront of the cell. This is the cellular glycocalyx. Depfinishing on the cell form, this carbohydrate coat may have actually minor structural prestige, or it might have profound organism-level significance prefer the endothelial glycocalyx, illustrated listed below in an electron microphotograph which is challenging to attribute (it comes from here yet I am certain they are not the original owners) 


Cells for which the glycocalyx plays a major structural or functional function are numerous. In general, if the cell is designed to be coated in some kind of mucus, opportunities are it"s got a reasonably thick glycocalyx (as mucus is mainly a polysaccharide product). Examples (from Tarbell & Cancel, 2016) include:

Vascular endothelial cellsGut epithelium Bronchial epitheliumOsteocytes

Obviously, not all cells are overgrvery own with a thick coat of polysaccharides as portrayed over. Some cells may have actually just a minimal glycocalyx in terms of cell membrane mass, which nonethemuch less has actually extensive importance. For instance, the ABO blood grouping system is based on the recognition of polysaccharide surchallenge antigens jutting out of the membranes of red cells.

Water in the cell membrane

The cell membrane has a surprising amount of water in it, for somepoint that is intended to be a mostly lipid-based cellular object. Water is in reality an active structural component of the cell membrane. The water is current in 2 primary forms:

"Organised" water, i.e. complexed via the hydrophilic heads of the phospholipid moleculesBulk water, i.e. chemically normal water which flows via protein channels and also pores

So, the membrane is not exactly a rectangular slab of butter as frequently presented by clinical illustrations. Disalvo et al (2015) comment on this aspect in good detail. In short, it is most likely vital to remember that tright here is plenty of water in the membrane, and also that it does useful things. When one takes a sample of purified membrane phospholipid and enables it to create spontaneous liposomes in solution, they will swell and also shrink according to the osmotic transforms in that solution, demonstrating that water goes in and out of them (Van Zoelen et al, 1978). The lipid bilayer molecules do not fit neatly together yet quite are piled rather haphazardly, through gaps between them formed by the "kinks" in their hydrophobic tails. Gaps, therefore, show up in the lipid bilayer interior structure, vacancies which readily admit molecules of water and perhaps also a stray ion or 2. The water which courses through these channels would certainly not be a normal mass water flow, but most likely some type of highly organised water, through considerably various solvent properties. Its presence permits lipid-water-protein interactions which strengthen the lipid-protein associations wbelow the protein is hydrophobic. Conversely, the presence of whole nanometer-scale pools of water inside the membrane permits the insertion of polar protein molecules into the non-polar bilayer.

Ions linked with the cell membrane

The cell membrane is a charged object suspended in a soup of liquified ions, and therefore it is unsurpclimbing that it could communicate someexactly how via the ionic constituents of extracellular and intracellular liquid. Much of these interactions are because of the intrinsic surface charge of the membrane components:

At physiologic pH, membrane components generate mainly negative changesPhospholipid head teams dissociate to generate H2PO4−, HPO4-2 and PO4 −3Sialic acid linked through integral proteins generates COO− groups

This leads to an intrinsic net negative charge on the cell membrane surconfront. This repels anions such as chloride and also attracts cations such as sodium and also potassium, acting as an effective inhibitor of their migration.

This phenomenon in a living membrane is very complex and variable: the surdeals with of the membrane are heterogeneous, and also there are islands of variable charge (some of it positive, some negative) which move roughly the lipid bilayer. On height of that,. the visibility of membrane proteins and also polysaccharides (all of them through their own dissociation properties and also ion adsorption capacities) make it difficult to behold the cell membrane as some type of unidevelop capacitor via ions neatly arrayed alengthy either side.

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Fortunately, we are able to produce phosphatidylcholine liposomes in the lab which are even more uniform and much better behaved. Under these conditions, it is feasible to show that monovalent and divalent cations are adsorbed onto the membrane surconfront, and that these ions then adjust the membrane surface charge density and also ion permeability (Kotyńska et al, 2009). This adsorption relies on numerous factors, of which the many vital is probably the pH of the extracellular fluid: transforms in pH change the surface charge of the membrane through the membrane becoming more positive at reduced pH and also more negative at better pH. Interestingly, the pH variety at which there are real distinctions are rather past the variety of survivability; at a clinically relevant pH range (pH 6.5-7.5) the surface charge thickness is relatively steady.

Anymeans. The upswarm of ion adsorption on the membrane surconfront is of twofold significance:

Changes in cell membrane charge thickness because of ion adsorption affect the migration of ions across the membrane channels