The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is a type of organelle in eukaryotic cells that forms an interconnected network of flattened, membrane-enclosed sacs or tube-like structures known as cisternae. The membranes of the ER are continuous with the outer nuclear membrane. The endoplasmic reticulum occurs in most types of eukaryotic cells, including Giardia, but is absent from red blood cells and spermatozoa. There are two types of endoplasmic reticulum: rough and smooth. The outer (cytosolic) face of the rough endoplasmic reticulum is studded with ribosomes that are the sites of protein synthesis. The rough endoplasmic reticulum is especially prominent in cells such as hepatocytes. The smooth endoplasmic reticulum lacks ribosomes and functions in lipid manufacture and metabolism, the production of steroid hormones, and detoxification. The smooth ER is especially abundant in mammalian liver and gonad cells. The lacy membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum were first seen in 1945 using electron microscopy.
The general structure of the endoplasmic reticulum is a network of membranes called cisternae. These sac-like structures are held together by the cytoskeleton. The phospholipid membrane encloses the cisternal space (or lumen), which is continuous with the perinuclear space but separate from the cytosol. The functions of the endoplasmic reticulum can be summarized as the synthesis and export of proteins and membrane lipids, but varies between ER and cell type and cell function. The quantity of both rough and smooth endoplasmic reticulum in a cell can slowly interchange from one type to the other, depending on the changing metabolic activities of the cell. Transformation can include embedding of new proteins in membrane as well as structural changes. Changes in protein content may occur without noticeable structural changes.
Rough endoplasmic reticulum:
The surface of the rough endoplasmic reticulum (often abbreviated RER or Rough ER) (also called granular endoplasmic reticulum) is studded with protein-manufacturing ribosomes giving it a "rough" appearance (hence its name). The binding site of the ribosome on the rough endoplasmic reticulum is the translocon. However, the ribosomes are not a stable part of this organelle's structure as they are constantly being bound and released from the membrane. A ribosome only binds to the RER once a specific protein-nucleic acid complex forms in the cytosol. This special complex forms when a free ribosome begins translating the mRNA of a protein destined for the secretory pathway. The first 5-30 amino acids polymerized encode a signal peptide, a molecular message that is recognized and bound by a signal recognition particle (SRP). Translation pauses and the ribosome complex bind to the RER translocon where translation continues with the nascent (new) protein forming into the RER lumen and/or membrane. The protein is processed in the ER lumen by an enzyme (a signal peptidase), which removes the signal peptide. Ribosomes at this point may be released back into the cytosol; however, non-translating ribosomes are also known to stay associated with translocons.
Smooth endoplasmic reticulum
In most cells the smooth endoplasmic reticulum (abbreviated SER) is scarce. Instead there are areas where the ER is partly smooth and partly rough; this area is called the transitional ER. The transitional ER gets its name because it contains ER exit sites. These are areas where the transport vesicles that contain lipids and proteins made in the ER, detach from the ER and start moving to the Golgi apparatus. Specialized cells can have a lot of smooth endoplasmic reticulum and in these cells the smooth ER has many functions. It synthesizes lipids, phospholipids, and steroids. Cells which secrete these products, such as those in the testes, ovaries, and sebaceous glands have an abundance of smooth endoplasmic reticulum. It also carries out the metabolism of carbohydrates, detoxification of natural metabolism products and of alcohol and drugs, attachment of receptors on cell membrane proteins, and steroid metabolism. In muscle cells, it regulates calcium ion concentration. Smooth endoplasmic reticulum is found in a variety of cell types (both animal and plant), and it serves different functions in each. The smooth endoplasmic reticulum also contains the enzyme glucose-6-phosphatase, which converts glucose-6-phosphate to glucose, a step in gluconeogenesis. It is connected to the nuclear envelope and consists of tubules that are located near the cell periphery. These tubes sometimes branch forming a network that is reticular in appearance. In some cells, there are dilated areas like the sacs of rough endoplasmic reticulum. The network of smooth endoplasmic reticulum allows for an increased surface area to be devoted to the action or storage of key enzymes and the products of these enzymes.