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Cell Membrane Features

  1. Philip L Yeagle

Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001261.pub2



How to Cite

Yeagle, P. L. 2009. Cell Membrane Features. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

This is not the most recent version of the article. View current version (17 MAR 2015)


The membranes of living cells support much of the functionality of biology. From the subcellular level of organelles to the supercellular level of cell–cell interactions, membranes provide the structures necessary for biological function and organization. Many of those structural and functional features are common among membranes in bacteria, eukaryotic cells and viruses. The lipid bilayer provides the fundamental architecture and some of the properties common to all biological membranes. Membrane proteins confer a myriad of specific functions expressed by cell membranes. Plasma membranes determine the boundary of the cell and many of the interactions of the cell with its environment. Intracellular membranes compartmentalize cells into different functional units with differing internal compositions. The composition of the compartments is maintained by essential transport functions in concert with permeability control. Signal transduction is supported by membranes. Membrane fusion provides a mechanism for intracellular vesicular transport and enveloped virus entry into cells.

Key concepts:

  • The hydrophobic effect, which governs the behaviour of hydrocarbons in water, controls the structures formed by membrane lipids and membrane proteins.

  • Many properties of membranes are conferred by fundamental properties of lipid bilayers that form the basic structure for all biological membranes.

  • Transmembrane proteins have different organizations of amino acids in their primary sequence such that linear sequences of amino acids are available to transit the lipid bilayer.

  • Integral membrane proteins have a portion of their mass buried in the lipid bilayer.

  • Peripheral membrane proteins are much like soluble proteins in structure, but are bound to membranes.

  • Much cellular function is conferred by cell membranes, including compartmentalization, transport, enzyme activity, intracellular trafficking, enveloped viral entry, signal transduction, endocytosis, phagocytosis, action potentials and RNA processing, to name a few.

  • Specialized cell membranes have specialized functions for cells.


  • membrane protein;
  • lipid bilayer;
  • membrane transport;
  • signal transduction;
  • membrane fusion;
  • plasma membrane