Learning outcomes

  • Describe the structure and functions of vesicles

Vesicles, like vacuoles (which we will address soon), are membrane-bound sacs that function in storage and transport. Other than the fact that vacuoles are somewhat larger than vesicles, there is a very subtle distinction between them: the membranes of vesicles can fuse with either the plasma membrane or other membrane systems within the cell. The membrane of a vacuole does not fuse with the membranes of other cellular components.

A vesicle consists of fluid enclosed by a lipid bilayer. Vesicles form naturally during the processes of secretion (exocytosis), uptake (phagocytosis) and transport of materials within the cytoplasm. Alternatively, they may be prepared artificially, in which case they are called liposomes. Vesicles can fuse with the plasma membrane to release their contents outside the cell. Vesicles can also fuse with other organelles within the cell.

Vesicles perform a variety of functions. Because they are separated from the cytosol, the inside of a vesicle can be different from the cytosolic environment. For this reason, vesicles are a basic tool used by the cell for organizing cellular substances. Vesicles are involved in metabolism, transport, buoyancy control, and enzyme storage. They can also act as chemical reaction chambers.

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