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Micrograph of rough endoplasmic reticulum network around the nucleus (shown in lower right-hand side of the picture). Dark small circles in the network are mitochondria.

The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is an eukaryotic organelle that forms an interconnected network of tubules, vesicles, and cisternae within cells. The lacey membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum were first seen by Keith R. Porter, Albert Claude, and Ernest F. Fullam in 1945.[1]



1 Nucleus   2 Nuclear pore   3 Rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER)   4 Smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER)   5 Ribosome on the rough ER   6 Proteins that are transported   7 Transport vesicle   8 Golgi apparatus   9 Cis face of the Golgi apparatus   10 Trans face of the Golgi apparatus   11 Cisternae of the Golgi apparatus

The general structure of the endoplasmic reticulum is an extensive membrane network of cisternae (sac-like structures) held together by the cytoskeleton. The phospholipid membrane encloses a space, the cisternal space (or lumen), from the cytosol, which is continuous with the perinuclear space. The functions of the endoplasmic reticulum vary greatly depending on the exact type of endoplasmic reticulum and the type of cell in which it resides. The three varieties are called rough endoplasmic reticulum, smooth endoplasmic reticulum and sarcoplasmic reticulum.

The quantity of RER and SER in a cell can quickly interchange from one type to the other, depending on changing metabolic needs: one type will undergo numerous changes including new proteins embedded in the membranes in order to transform. Also, massive changes in the protein content can occur without any noticeable structural changes, depending on the enzymatic needs of the cell (as per the functions listed below).

Rough endoplasmic reticulum

The surface of the rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) is studded with protein-manufacturing ribosomes giving it a "rough" appearance (hence its name).[2] However, the ribosomes bound to the RER at any one time are not a stable part of this organelle's structure as ribosomes are constantly being bound and released from the membrane. A ribosome only binds to the ER once it begins to synthesize a protein destined for the secretory pathway.[3] Here, a ribosome in the cytosol begins synthesizing a protein until a signal recognition particle recognizes the pre-piece of 5-15 hydrophobic amino acids preceded by a positively charged amino acid. This signal sequence allows the recognition particle to bind to the ribosome, causing the ribosome to bind to the RER and pass the new protein through the ER membrane. The pre-piece is then cleaved off within the lumen of the ER and the ribosome released back into the cytosol.

The membrane of the RER is continuous with the outer layer of the nuclear envelope. Although there is no continuous membrane between the RER and the Golgi apparatus, membrane-bound vesicles shuttle proteins between these two compartments.[4] Vesicles are surrounded by coating proteins called COPI and COPII. COPII targets vesicles to the golgi and COPI marks them to be brought back to the RER. The RER works in concert with the Golgi complex to target new proteins to their proper destinations. A second method of transport out of the ER are areas called membrane contact sites, where the membranes of the ER and other organelles are held closely together, allowing the transfer of lipids and other small molecules.[5][6]

The RER is key in multiple functions:

  • lysosomal enzymes with a mannose-6-phosphate marker added in the cis-Golgi network
  • Secreted proteins, either secreted constitutively with no tag, or regulated secretion involving clathrin and paired basic amino acids in the signal peptide.
  • integral membrane proteins that stay imbedded in the membrane as vesicles exit and bind to new membranes. Rab proteins are key in targeting the membrane, SNAP and SNARE proteins are key in the fusion event.
  • initial glycosylation as assembly continues. This is either N-linked (O-linking occur in the golgi).
    • N-linked glycosylation: if the protein is properly folded, glycosyltransferase recognizes the AA sequence NXS or NXT (with the S/T residue phosphorylated) and adds a 14 sugar backbone (2 N-acetylglucosamine, 9 branching mannose, and 3 glucose at the end) to the side chain nitrogen of Asn.

Smooth endoplasmic reticulum

The smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER) has functions in several metabolic processes, including synthesis of lipids and steroids, metabolism of carbohydrates, regulation of calcium concentration, drug detoxification, attachment of receptors on cell membrane proteins, and steroid metabolism.[7] It is connected to the nuclear envelope. Smooth endoplasmic reticulum is found in a variety of cell types (both animal and plant) and it serves different functions in each. The Smooth ER also contains the enzyme glucose-6-phosphatase which converts glucose-6-phosphate to glucose, a step in gluconeogenesis. The SER consists of tubules and vesicles that branch forming a network. In some cells there are dilated areas like the sacs of RER. The network of SER allows increased surface area for the action or storage of key enzymes and the products of these enzymes.

Sarcoplasmic reticulum

The sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR), from the Greek sarx, ("flesh"), is a special type of smooth ER found in smooth and striated muscle. The only structural difference between this organelle and the SER is the medley of proteins they have, both bound to their membranes and drifting within the confines of their lumens. This fundamental difference is indicative of their functions: the SER synthesizes molecules while the SR stores and pumps calcium ions. The SR contains large stores of calcium, which it sequesters and then releases when the muscle cell is stimulated.[8] The SR's release of calcium upon electrical stimulation of the cell plays a major role in excitation-contraction coupling.


The endoplasmic reticulum serves many general functions, including the facilitation of protein folding and the transport of synthesized proteins in sacs called cisternae.

Correct folding of newly-made proteins is made possible by several endoplasmic reticulum chaperone proteins, including protein disulfide isomerase (PDI), ERp29, the Hsp70 family member Grp78, calnexin, calreticulin, and the peptidylpropyl isomerase family. Only properly-folded proteins are transported from the rough ER to the Golgi complex.

Transport of proteins

Secretory proteins, mostly glycoproteins, are moved across the endoplasmic reticulum membrane. Proteins that are transported by the endoplasmic reticulum and from there throughout the cell are marked with an address tag called a signal sequence. The N-terminus (one end) of a polypeptide chain (i.e., a protein) contains a few amino acids that work as an address tag, which are removed when the polypeptide reaches its destination. Proteins that are destined for places outside the endoplasmic reticulum are packed into transport vesicles and moved along the cytoskeleton toward their destination.

The endoplasmic reticulum is also part of a protein sorting pathway. It is, in essence, the transportation system of the eukaryotic cell. The majority of endoplasmic reticulum resident proteins are retained in the endoplasmic reticulum through a retention motif. This motif is composed of four amino acids at the end of the protein sequence. The most common retention sequence is KDEL (lys-asp-glu-leu). However, variation on KDEL does occur and other sequences can also give rise to endoplasmic reticulum retention. It is not known if such variation can lead to sub-endoplasmic reticulum localizations. There are three KDEL receptors in mammalian cells, and they have a very high degree of sequence identity. The functional differences between these receptors remain to be established.

Other functions

  • Insertion of proteins into the endoplasmic reticulum membrane: Integral membrane proteins are inserted into the endoplasmic reticulum membrane as they are being synthesized (co-translational translocation). Insertion into the endoplasmic reticulum membrane requires the correct topogenic signal sequences in the protein.
  • Glycosylation: Glycosylation involves the attachment of oligosaccharides.
  • Disulfide bond formation and rearrangement: Disulfide bonds stabilize the tertiary and quaternary structure of many proteins.
  • Drug Metabolism: The smooth ER is the site at which some drugs are modified by microsomal enzymes which include the cytochrome P450 enzymes.

See also


  1. ^ Porter KR, Claude A, Fullam EF (March 1945). "A study of tissue culture cells by electron microscopy". J Exp Med. 81: 233–246. doi:10.1084/jem.81.3.233.  
  2. ^ Campbell, Neil A. (1996) Biology Fourth Edition. Benjamin/Cummings Publishing, pp. 120-121 ISBN 0-8053-1940-9
  3. ^ Lodish, Harvey, et al. (2003) Molecular Cell Biology 5th Edition. W. H. Freeman, pp. 659-666 ISBN 0716743663
  4. ^ Endoplasmic reticulum. (n.d.). McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. Retrieved September 13, 2006, from Web site:
  5. ^ Levine T (September 2004). "Short-range intracellular trafficking of small molecules across endoplasmic reticulum junctions". Trends Cell Biol. 14 (9): 483–90. doi:10.1016/j.tcb.2004.07.017. PMID 15350976.  
  6. ^ Levine T, Loewen C (August 2006). "Inter-organelle membrane contact sites: through a glass, darkly". Curr. Opin. Cell Biol. 18 (4): 371–8. doi:10.1016/ PMID 16806880.  
  7. ^ Maxfield FR, Wüstner D (October 2002). "Intracellular cholesterol transport". J. Clin. Invest. 110 (7): 891–8. doi:10.1172/JCI16500. PMID 12370264.  
  8. ^ Toyoshima C, Nakasako M, Nomura H, Ogawa H (2000). "Crystal structure of the calcium pump of sarcoplasmic reticulum at 2.6 A resolution". Nature 405 (6787): 647–55. doi:10.1038/35015017. PMID 10864315.  

External links

Simple English

Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is a cellular organelle which is an extension of the nucleus. It may be either rough endoplasmic reticulum (rER), so called because it is studded with ribosomes to give it a rough appearance under a microscope, or smooth endoplasmic reticulum (sER). Among its many functions is the production of proteins (by ribosomes in the rER) and steroids (in the sER), and the maintenance of cellular membranes, such as the plasma membrane.


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