Book : Cell Biology
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In cell biology, a vesicle is a small structure within a cell, consisting of fluid enclosed by a lipid bilayer. Vesicles form naturally during the processes of secretion (exocytosis), uptake (endocytosis) and transport of materials within the cytoplasm. Alternatively, they may be prepared artificially, in which case they are called liposomes. (Not lysosomes) If there is only one phospholipid bilayer, they are called unilamellar liposome vesicles; otherwise they are called multilamellar. The membrane enclosing the vesicle is also a lamellar phase, similar to that of the plasma membrane and 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 it is separated from the cytosol, the inside of the vesicle can be made to 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 temporary storage of food and enzymes . They can also act as chemical reaction chambers.

Types of vesicle:


Vacuoles are vesicles which contain mostly water.

  • Plant cells have a large central vacuole in the center of the cell that is used for osmotic control and nutrient storage.
  • Contractile vacuoles are found in certain protists, especially those in Phylum Ciliophora. These vacuoles take water from the cytoplasm and excrete it from the cell to avoid bursting due to osmotic pressure.


  • Lysosomes are involved in cellular digestion. Food can be taken from outside the cell into food vacuoles by a process called endocytosis. These food vacuoles fuse with lysosomes which break down the components so that they can be used in the cell. This form of cellular eating is called phagocytosis.
  • Lysosomes are also used to destroy defective or damaged organelles in a process called autophagy. They fuse with the membrane of the damaged organelle, digesting it.

Transport vesicles

  • Transport vesicles can move molecules between locations inside the cell, e.g., proteins from the rough endoplasmic reticulum to the Golgi apparatus.
  • Membrane-bound and secreted proteins are made on ribosomes found in the rough endoplasmic reticulum. Most of these proteins mature in the Golgi apparatus before going to their final destination which may be to lysosomes, peroxisomes, or outside of the cell. These proteins travel within the cell inside of transport vesicles.

Secretory vesicles

Secretory vesicles contain materials that are to be excreted from the cell. Cells have many reasons to excrete materials. One reason is to dispose of wastes. Another reason is tied to the function of the cell. Within a larger organism, some cells are specialized to produce certain chemicals. These chemicals are stored in secretory vesicles and released when needed.


  • Synaptic vesicles are located at presynaptic terminals in neurons and store neurotransmitters. When a signal comes down an axon, the synaptic vesicles fuse with the cell membrane releasing the neurotransmitter so that it can be detected by receptor molecules on the next nerve cell.
  • In animals endocrine tissues release hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones are stored within secretory vesicles. A good example is the endocrine tissue found in the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. This tissue contains many cell types that are defined by which hormones they produce.
  • Secretory vesicles hold the enzymes that are used to make the cell walls of plants, protists, fungi, bacteria and Archaea cells as well as the extracellular matrix of animal cells.
  • Bacteria, Archaea, fungi and parasites release membrane vesicles (MVs) containing varied but specialized toxic compounds and biochemical signal molecules, which are transported to target cells to initiate processes in favour of the microbe, which include invasion of host cells and killing of competing microbes in the same niche.

Extracellular vesicles

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are produced by all domains of life including complex eukaryotes, both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, mycobacteria and fungi.

In Gram-negative bacteria, EVs are produced by the pinching off of the outer membrane; however, how EVs escape the thick cell walls of Gram-positive bacteria, mycobacteria and fungi is still unknown. These EVs contain varied cargo, including nucleic acids, toxins, lipoproteins and enzymes and have important roles in microbial physiology and pathogenesis. In host-pathogen interactions, gram negative bacteria produce vesicles which play roles in establishing a colonization niche, carrying and transmitting virulence factors into host cells and modulating host defense and response.

Vesicle Formation and Transport:

Some vesicles are made when part of the membrane pinches off the endoplasmic reticulum or the Golgi complex. Others are made when an object outside of the cell is surrounded by the cell membrane.

Vesicle coat and cargo molecules

The vesicle "coat" is a collection of proteins that serve to shape the curvature of a donor membrane, forming the rounded vesicle shape. Coat proteins can also function to bind to various transmembrane receptor proteins, called cargo receptors. These receptors help select what material is endocytosed in receptor-mediated endocytosis or intracellular transport.

There are three types of vesicle coats: clathrin, COPI and COPII. The various types of coat proteins help with sorting of vesicles to their final destination. Clathrin coats are found on vesicles trafficking between the Golgi and plasma membrane, the Golgi and endosomes and the plasma membrane and endosomes. COPI coated vesicles are responsible for retrograde transport from the Golgi to the ER, while COPII coated vesicles are responsible for anterograde transport from the ER to the Golgi.

The clathrin coat is thought to assemble in response to regulatory G protein. A protein coat assembles and disassembles due to an ADP ribosylation factor (ARF) protein.

Vesicle docking

Surface proteins called SNAREs identify the vesicle's cargo and complementary SNAREs on the target membrane act to cause fusion of the vesicle and target membrane. Such v-SNARES are hypothesised to exist on the vesicle membrane, while the complementary ones on the target membrane are known as t-SNAREs.

Often SNAREs associated with vesicles or target membranes are instead classified as Qa, Qb, Qc, or R SNAREs owing to further variation than simply v- or t-SNAREs. An array of different SNARE complexes can be seen in different tissues and subcellular compartments, with 36 isoforms currently identified in humans.

Regulatory Rab proteins are thought to inspect the joining of the SNAREs. Rab protein is a regulatory GTP-binding protein and controls the binding of these complementary SNAREs for a long enough time for the Rab protein to hydrolyse its bound GTP and lock the vesicle onto the membrane.

Vesicle fusion

Vesicle fusion can occur in one of two ways: full fusion or kiss-and-run fusion. Fusion requires the two membranes to be brought within 1.5 nm of each other. For this to occur water must be displaced from the surface of the vesicle membrane. This is energetically unfavorable and evidence suggests that the process requires ATP, GTP and acetyl-coA. Fusion is also linked to budding, which is why the term budding and fusing arises.

Vesicles in receptor downregulation

Membrane proteins serving as receptors are sometimes tagged for downregulation by the attachment of ubiquitin. After arriving an endosome via the pathway described above, vesicles begin to form inside the endosome, taking with them the membrane proteins meant for degradation; When the endosome either matures to become a lysosome or is united with one, the vesicles are completely degraded. Without this mechanism, only the extracellular part of the membrane proteins would reach the lumen of the lysosome and only this part would be degraded.

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