Endomembrane system

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The endomembrane system is composed of the different membranes that are suspended in the cytoplasm within a eukaryotic cell. These membranes divide the cell into functional and structural compartments, or organelles. In eukaryotes the organelles of the endomembrane system include: the nuclear envelope, the endoplasmic reticulum, the Golgi apparatus, lysosomes, vacuoles, vesicles, and the cell membrane. The system is defined more accurately as the set of membranes that form a single functional and developmental unit, either being connected together directly, or exchanging material through vesicle transport.[1] Importantly, the endomembrane system does not include the membranes of mitochondria or chloroplasts.

The nuclear envelope is a membrane containing two layers, that encompasses the contents of the nucleus.[2] The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is a synthesis and transport organelle that branches into the cytoplasm in plant and animal cells.[3] The Golgi apparatus is a series of multiple compartments where molecules are packaged for delivery to other cell components or for secretion from the cell.[4] Vacuoles, which are found in both plant and animal cells (though much bigger in plant cells), are responsible for maintaining the shape and structure of the cell as well as storing waste products.[5] A vesicle is a relatively small, membrane-enclosed sac that stores or transports substances.[6] The plasma membrane, also referred to as the cell membrane, is a protective barrier that regulates what enters and leaves the cell.[7] There is also an organelle known as the spitzenkörper that is only found in fungi, and is connected with hyphal tip growth.[8]

In prokaryotes endomembranes are rare, although in many photosynthetic bacteria the plasma membrane is highly folded and most of the cell cytoplasm is filled with layers of light-gathering membrane.[9] These light-gathering membranes may even form enclosed structures called chlorosomes in green sulfur bacteria.[10]

The organelles of the endomembrane system are related through direct contact or by the transfer of membrane segments as vesicles. Despite these relationships, the various membranes are not identical in structure and function. The thickness, molecular composition, and metabolic behavior of a membrane are not fixed, they may be modified several times during the membrane's life. One unifying characteristic the membranes share is a lipid bilayer, with proteins attached to either side or traversing them.[11]

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