Exocytosis- Definition, Process and Types with Examples
Exocytosis is a process of cellular secretion or excretion in which material or substances contained in vesicles or sacs are released from the cell by fusion of the vesicular membrane with the cell membrane and extrusion of the contents to the exterior of the cell . It is a form of bulk transport and the opposite of endocytosis . Exocytosis occurs via secretory portals at the cell membrane called porosomes.
Exocytosis is an important process for many biological functions, such as:
- Removing waste materials from the cell
- Transporting hormones and proteins to their target cells
- Chemical signaling between cells
- Rebuilding the cell membrane by fusing lipids and proteins removed through endocytosis back into the membrane
Exocytosis requires energy and is therefore a type of active transport. The energy is mainly provided by ATP molecules that power the movement of vesicles along the cytoskeleton and the fusion of vesicles with the cell membrane.
In this article, we will explore the comparison of exocytosis with endocytosis, the mechanism of exocytosis, the types of exocytotic vesicles, the types of exocytosis, the steps involved in exocytosis, and some examples of exocytosis in different cells.
Exocytosis and endocytosis are two opposite processes that involve the movement of materials across the cell membrane. Both processes require energy and use vesicles to transport substances. However, they differ in the direction and purpose of the transport.
- Exocytosis is the process of releasing materials from inside the cell to the outside by fusing a vesicle with the cell membrane. Endocytosis is the process of taking in materials from outside the cell by forming a vesicle from the cell membrane.
- Exocytosis is used to secrete substances such as hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and waste products. Endocytosis is used to ingest substances such as nutrients, fluids, pathogens, and cell debris.
- Exocytosis can be constitutive or regulated. Constitutive exocytosis occurs continuously and does not depend on external signals. Regulated exocytosis occurs only when a specific signal triggers the release of the vesicle contents. Endocytosis can be phagocytosis, pinocytosis, or receptor-mediated. Phagocytosis involves engulfing large particles or cells. Pinocytosis involves taking in small droplets of fluid. Receptor-mediated endocytosis involves binding specific molecules to receptors on the cell membrane before forming a vesicle.
- Exocytosis can repair the cell membrane by adding proteins and lipids that were lost during endocytosis. Endocytosis can modify the cell membrane by removing proteins and lipids that are no longer needed or by changing the receptor density and sensitivity.
- Exocytosis can communicate with other cells by sending chemical signals or displaying membrane proteins. Endocytosis can receive signals from other cells by taking in molecules or receptors that bind to them.
In summary, exocytosis and endocytosis are complementary processes that allow cells to exchange materials with their environment and regulate their internal composition and function.
Exocytosis is a complex process that involves several steps and molecular interactions. The basic mechanism of exocytosis can be summarized as follows:
- The cell synthesizes and packages the molecules that need to be transported outside the cell in membrane-bound vesicles. These vesicles are formed by the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the Golgi apparatus, which are organelles involved in protein synthesis and modification. The vesicles contain different types of molecules depending on the function and destination of the cell. For example, secretory cells produce hormones, enzymes, or neurotransmitters that are stored in vesicles until they are needed.
- The vesicles move along the cytoskeleton, which is a network of protein filaments that provide structure and support to the cell. The cytoskeleton also acts as a track for the transport of vesicles and other organelles within the cell. The movement of vesicles is facilitated by motor proteins, such as kinesins and dyneins, that use energy from ATP to carry the vesicles along the microtubules, which are tubular structures that form part of the cytoskeleton.
- The vesicles reach the plasma membrane, which is the outer layer of the cell that separates it from the extracellular environment. The plasma membrane is composed of a phospholipid bilayer with embedded proteins that regulate the passage of substances in and out of the cell. The vesicles are guided to specific regions of the plasma membrane where they can fuse with it. This process is called tethering and docking, and it involves specialized proteins on both the vesicle and the plasma membrane that recognize each other and form a stable connection. Some of these proteins are called SNAREs (soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptors), which mediate the fusion of membranes.
- The fusion of the vesicle with the plasma membrane creates an opening through which the contents of the vesicle can be released to the outside of the cell. This process is called fusing and it requires energy from ATP and calcium ions. Calcium ions are important signaling molecules that trigger exocytosis in response to various stimuli, such as hormones, neurotransmitters, or electrical impulses. Calcium ions enter the cell through channels on the plasma membrane or are released from internal stores, such as the ER or mitochondria. Calcium ions bind to proteins on the vesicle and the plasma membrane that facilitate the fusion process. Depending on the type and function of the vesicle, there are two modes of fusion: complete fusion and kiss-and-run fusion. In complete fusion, the vesicle membrane merges completely with the plasma membrane and becomes part of it. In kiss-and-run fusion, the vesicle membrane forms a transient pore with the plasma membrane and releases its contents partially or fully before detaching from it and returning to the cytoplasm.
- The release of molecules from the vesicle to the extracellular space completes exocytosis. The molecules can then interact with other cells or tissues through receptors or diffusion. For example, hormones can bind to receptors on target cells and trigger a cascade of biochemical reactions that regulate various physiological processes. Neurotransmitters can cross the synaptic cleft (the gap between neurons) and bind to receptors on post-synaptic neurons and modulate their electrical activity. Enzymes can catalyze chemical reactions that digest food or degrade waste materials.
Exocytosis is a vital process for cellular communication, secretion, and homeostasis. It allows cells to export molecules that perform specific functions in different parts of the body or in response to different stimuli. It also enables cells to maintain their shape and size by balancing their membrane composition and removing excess or unwanted materials.
The exocytotic vesicle is a membrane-bound sac that contains the materials that are to be transported from inside the cell to the outside. The vesicle can originate from different sources within the cell, depending on the type and function of exocytosis.
One source of exocytotic vesicles is the Golgi apparatus, which is an organelle that modifies, sorts and packages proteins and lipids that are synthesized in the endoplasmic reticulum. The Golgi apparatus forms secretory vesicles that bud off at its trans face and carry the proteins and lipids to the cell membrane or to other destinations within the cell.
Another source of exocytotic vesicles is the early endosome, which is a membrane sac found in the cell cytoplasm. The early endosome receives vesicles that are formed by endocytosis of the cell membrane, and sorts the internalized materials into different categories, such as proteins, lipids, microbes and debris. The early endosome then sends transport vesicles to various destinations, such as the cell membrane, lysosomes or late endosomes.
A third source of exocytotic vesicles is the synaptic terminal of neurons, which are specialized cells that transmit electrical and chemical signals in the nervous system. The synaptic terminal contains synaptic vesicles that store neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that relay signals between neurons or other cells. The synaptic vesicles fuse with the presynaptic membrane and release neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft, which is the gap between neurons.
The exocytotic vesicle has a lipid bilayer that is similar to the cell membrane, but it also has specific proteins that help it to fuse with the cell membrane and release its contents. Some of these proteins are called SNAREs (soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptors), which are found on both the vesicle and the cell membrane and mediate the docking and fusion of the vesicle. Another protein that is involved in exocytosis is synaptotagmin, which is found on synaptic vesicles and acts as a calcium sensor that triggers fusion when calcium ions enter the presynaptic terminal.
The exocytotic vesicle can fuse with the cell membrane in two ways: complete fusion or kiss-and-run fusion. Complete fusion involves the full merger of the vesicle membrane with the cell membrane, creating a pore that allows the release of all the contents of the vesicle. This process requires energy (ATP) and results in a permanent increase in the surface area of the cell membrane. Kiss-and-run fusion involves a temporary contact between the vesicle and the cell membrane, creating a small pore that allows a partial release of some of the contents of the vesicle. This process does not require energy and results in a reversible change in the surface area of the cell membrane. The vesicle then detaches from the cell membrane and can be recycled for further use.
The exocytotic vesicle plays an important role in various cellular functions, such as secretion, signaling, communication and membrane repair. By transporting materials from inside to outside the cell, it helps to maintain cellular homeostasis, regulate physiological processes and respond to environmental stimuli.
There are three main types of exocytosis that differ in their mechanisms and functions. They are:
- Constitutive exocytosis: This type of exocytosis involves the continuous delivery of membrane proteins and lipids to the cell membrane and the secretion of substances from the cell into the extracellular space. This is the most common pathway that is performed by all cells. Constitutive exocytosis helps to maintain the composition and size of the cell membrane, as well as to release molecules that are involved in cell signaling, adhesion, and extracellular matrix formation.
- Regulated exocytosis: This type of exocytosis is restricted to specialized secretory cells, such as neurons, endocrine cells, and exocrine cells. These cells store hormones, neurotransmitters, digestive enzymes, and other secretory products in vesicles that are formed by the Golgi apparatus. The release of these products is triggered by specific extracellular signals, such as hormones, neurotransmitters, or calcium ions. Regulated exocytosis allows the cell to respond rapidly and precisely to changes in the environment or in the physiological state of the organism.
- Lysosome-mediated exocytosis: This type of exocytosis involves the fusion of lysosomes with the cell membrane. Lysosomes are organelles that contain digestive enzymes and hydrolases that break down cellular waste materials, microorganisms, and debris. Lysosome-mediated exocytosis helps to eliminate these materials from the cell and to release them into the extracellular space. This process also contributes to the immune system by exposing antigens to the surface of antigen-presenting cells.
These three types of exocytosis have different roles and functions in various cellular processes and tissues. For example, constitutive exocytosis is important for maintaining the integrity and fluidity of the cell membrane, as well as for releasing growth factors and cytokines that regulate cell growth and differentiation. Regulated exocytosis is essential for transmitting signals between cells and organs, such as in synaptic transmission, hormone secretion, and immune response. Lysosome-mediated exocytosis is involved in cellular defense, tissue remodeling, and wound healing.
Exocytosis is a complex process that involves several steps to transport materials from inside the cell to the outside. The steps vary depending on the type of exocytosis, but they generally include the following:
- Vesicle trafficking: This is the movement of vesicles containing the materials to be secreted from their origin (such as the Golgi apparatus, endosomes, or synaptic terminals) to the plasma membrane. The vesicles are transported along the cytoskeleton by motor proteins such as kinesins, dyneins, and myosins. The vesicles also interact with other proteins and organelles along the way to ensure proper targeting and sorting of their contents.
- Tethering: This is the initial contact between the vesicle and the plasma membrane, mediated by specific proteins called tethers. Tethers are long coiled-coil proteins that extend from the membrane and bind to specific receptors on the vesicle surface. Tethering helps to bring the vesicle close to the membrane and prepare it for docking.
- Docking: This is the tight attachment of the vesicle to the plasma membrane, mediated by specific proteins called SNAREs (soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptors). SNAREs are transmembrane proteins that form a complex between the vesicle and the membrane, creating a bridge that holds them together. Docking ensures that the vesicle is aligned correctly with the membrane and ready for fusion.
- Priming: This is an optional step that occurs only in regulated exocytosis, not in constitutive exocytosis. Priming involves some modifications of the SNARE complex or other proteins that facilitate exocytosis. Priming makes the vesicle more responsive to external signals that trigger exocytosis, such as calcium ions or hormones.
- Fusion: This is the final step of exocytosis, where the vesicle and the plasma membrane merge and create an opening called a fusion pore. Through this pore, the contents of the vesicle are released to the extracellular space. Fusion can be either complete or temporary (kiss-and-run). In complete fusion, the vesicle membrane becomes part of the plasma membrane and does not detach. In temporary fusion, the vesicle membrane remains intact and detaches from the plasma membrane after releasing some of its contents. The vesicle can then be recycled or degraded.
Exocytosis is a process that occurs in many types of cells and serves various functions. Here are some examples of exocytosis in different biological contexts:
- Transportation of glucagon from the pancreas to the liver. Glucagon is a hormone that stimulates the breakdown of glycogen into glucose in the liver when blood sugar levels are low. Glucagon is produced by the alpha cells of the pancreatic islets and stored in secretory vesicles. When glucose levels drop, glucagon is released by regulated exocytosis into the bloodstream and reaches the liver cells .
- Transportation of neurotransmitters from neurons to synapses. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals between neurons or between neurons and other cells. Neurotransmitters are synthesized and stored in synaptic vesicles in the presynaptic terminals of neurons. When an action potential reaches the terminal, calcium ions enter the cell and trigger the fusion of synaptic vesicles with the plasma membrane, releasing neurotransmitters by exocytosis into the synaptic cleft. The neurotransmitters then bind to receptors on the postsynaptic cell and elicit a response .
- Secretion of digestive enzymes from pancreatic acinar cells. Pancreatic acinar cells are specialized cells that produce and secrete digestive enzymes into the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. The digestive enzymes are synthesized in the rough endoplasmic reticulum and modified in the Golgi apparatus, where they are packaged into zymogen granules. Zymogen granules are a type of secretory vesicle that contain inactive forms of digestive enzymes, such as trypsinogen and chymotrypsinogen. When food enters the duodenum, hormones such as cholecystokinin and secretin stimulate the release of zymogen granules by regulated exocytosis into the pancreatic duct, which connects to the duodenum. The zymogens are then activated by other enzymes in the duodenum and aid in the digestion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates .
- Release of histamine from mast cells. Mast cells are immune cells that are involved in allergic reactions and inflammation. Mast cells contain granules that store various mediators, such as histamine, heparin, cytokines, and proteases. Histamine is a molecule that causes vasodilation, increased vascular permeability, smooth muscle contraction, and itching. When mast cells encounter an allergen or an infection, they undergo degranulation, which is a type of lysosome-mediated exocytosis. Degranulation involves the fusion of granules with the plasma membrane and the release of histamine and other mediators by exocytosis into the extracellular space. The released histamine then binds to receptors on nearby cells and triggers an inflammatory response .
- Repair of plasma membrane by lysosomes. Lysosomes are membrane-bound organelles that contain hydrolytic enzymes that degrade various macromolecules and cellular components. Lysosomes also play a role in membrane repair by fusing with damaged regions of the plasma membrane and delivering lipids and proteins to seal the membrane defects. This process is also known as lysosome-mediated exocytosis or lysosomal exocytosis .
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