Facilitated Diffusion

Most sugars and amino acids are insoluble in lipids, and they are too large to pass through cell membrane pores. Facilitated diffusion includes not only protein channels, but also certain proteins that function as "carriers" to bring such molecules across the cell membrane. In the facilitated diffusion of glucose, for example, glucose combines with a protein carrier molecule at the surface of the membrane. This union of glucose and carrier molecule changes the shape of the carrier that moves glucose to the inner face of the membrane. The glucose portion is released, and the carrier molecule can return to its original shape to pick up another glucose molecule. The hormone insulin, discussed in chapter 13 (p. 531), promotes facilitated diffusion of glucose through the membranes of certain cells.

Facilitated diffusion is similar to simple diffusion in that it can move molecules only from regions of higher concentration toward regions of lower concentration. However, unlike simple diffusion, the number of carrier molecules in the cell membrane limits the rate of facilitated diffusion (fig. 3.23).

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