Plasma membranes have integral transmembrane proteins involved in facilitated transport. These proteins are collectively referred to as transport proteins, and they function as either channels for the material or as carriers themselves. Channel proteins have hydrophilic domains exposed to the intracellular and extracellular fluids and a hydrophilic channel through their core that provides a hydrated opening for solutes to pass through the membrane layers. Passage through the channel allows polar compounds to avoid the nonpolar central layer of the plasma membrane that would otherwise slow or prevent their entry into the cell.
Aquaporins are channel proteins that allow water to pass through the membrane at a high rate. Channel proteins are either open at all times or "gated," with the opening of the channel being regulated. The attachment of a particular ion to the channel protein may control the opening, or other mechanisms or substances may be involved. In some tissues, sodium and chloride ions pass freely through open channels, whereas in other tissues, a gate must be opened to allow the passage. An example of this occurs in the kidney, where both forms of channels are found in different parts of the renal tubules. Cells involved in the transmission of electrical impulses, such as nerve and muscle cells, have gated channels for sodium, potassium, and calcium in their membranes.
Another type of protein embedded in the plasma membrane is a carrier protein. This protein binds a substance and, in doing so, triggers a change of its own shape, moving the bound molecule from the outside of the cell to its interior; depending on the gradient, the material may move in the opposite direction. Each carrier protein is specific to one substance, and there are a finite number of these proteins in any membrane. For example, glucose, water, salts, ions, and amino acids needed by the body are filtered in one part of the kidney. This filtrate, which includes glucose, is then reabsorbed in another part of the kidney. Because there are only a finite number of carrier proteins for glucose, if more glucose is present than the proteins carriers can handle, the excess is excreted from the body in the urine. In a diabetic individual, this is described as "spilling glucose into the urine." A different group of carrier proteins called glucose transport proteins, or GLUTs, are involved in transporting glucose and other hexose sugars through plasma membranes within the body. Channel proteins transport much more quickly than carrier proteins.
This text is adapted from Openstax Biology 2e, Section 5.2
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