Endocytosis and exocytosis

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Endocytosis and exocytosis


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High Yield Notes

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Endocytosis and exocytosis

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USMLE® Step 1 style questions USMLE

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An investigator is studying virulence factors that assist bacteria to evade host immune responses. Human white blood cells and group A streptococci are inoculated together, with observed uptake of group A streptococci into the cytoplasm of macrophages. Which of the following structures are unique to this endocytosis pathway?  


Cells transport material in and out across their cell membrane, which is a barrier made up of a double layer of lipids with embedded protein and carbohydrate components.

Some molecules can diffuse across the membrane, or be transported across with the help of membrane-bound proteins.

For transport of larger cargo, cells use endocytosis and exocytosis to transport material in and out of the cell, respectively.

And there are roughly five categories of molecules that try to get across the cell membrane.

Small non-polar molecules, like oxygen or carbon dioxide, are able to diffuse rapidly through the cell membrane.

Small, polar molecules, like water, can cross as well, but very slowly.

Large, nonpolar molecules like Vitamin A, are also very slow to cross the cell membrane.

And large, polar molecules, like glucose, as well as highly polar, charged ions like Na+, K+, Cl-, or molecules that possess a charge, like amino acids are highly unlikely to get across a cell membrane on their own.

So many of these molecules - some common ones being water, glucose, and ions, pass through the membrane using transport proteins.

Examples of transport proteins include channels, like aquaporins - a water channel and chloride channels which let chloride ions get across membranes, or carriers - such as the glucose transporter.

However, when the cell needs to transport a lot of molecules, or a very big molecule, it resorts to bulk transport, which comes in two flavors: endocytosis and exocytosis.

Endocytosis is a process that cells use to engulf extracellular material.

And exocytosis is the opposite process, during which cells expel material into the extracellular space.

Both endocytosis and exocytosis need energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate or ATP, used in the movement of the substances in and out of the cell.

There are three types of endocytosis - phagocytosis, pinocytosis and receptor-mediated endocytosis.

Phagocytosis - where phago- means to eat - is used by white blood cells like macrophages and neutrophils that patrol the body looking for debris, bacteria and dead cells to eat.


Endocytosis is the process of taking in material by enclosing it in a vesicle. Exocytosis is the opposite process, where the vesicle fuses with the plasma membrane and expels its contents to the outside of the cell. Endocytosis and exocytosis work together to allow cells to take in nutrients from their environment and to excrete waste products.


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