When is a carrier not a membrane carrier? The cytoplasmic transport of amphipathic molecules



After entering the cell, small molecules must penetrate the cytoplasm before they are metabolized, excreted, or can convey information to the cell nucleus. Without efficient cytoplasmic transport, most such molecules would efflux back out of the cell before they could reach their targets. Cytoplasmic movement of amphipathic molecules (e.g., long-chain fatty acids, bilirubin, bile acids) is greatly slowed by their tendency to bind intracellular structures. Soluble cytoplasmic binding proteins reduce this binding by increasing the aqueous solubility of their ligands. These soluble carriers catalyze the transport of hydrophobic molecules across hydrophilic water layers, just as membrane carriers catalyze the transport of hydrophilic molecules across the hydrophobic membrane core. They even display the kinetic features of carrier-mediated transport, including saturation, mutual competition between similar molecules, and countertransport. Recent data suggest that amphipathic molecules cross the cytoplasm very slowly, with apparent diffusion constants 102 to 104 times smaller than in water. By modulating the rate of cytoplasmic transport, cytosolic binding proteins may regulate transport and metabolism of amphipathic molecules. Storage diseases may cause hepatocellular dysfunction by disrupting normal cytoplasmic transport.