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Biology LibreTexts

4.7.4: The Endoplasmic Reticulum

The endoplasmic reticulum is an organelle that is responsible for the synthesis of lipids and the modification of proteins.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

Describe the structure of the endoplasmic reticulum and its role in synthesis and metabolism

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Key Points

  • If the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) has ribosomes attached to it, it is called rough ER; if it does not, then it is called smooth ER.
  • The proteins made by the rough endoplasmic reticulum are for use outside of the cell.
  • Functions of the smooth endoplasmic reticulum include synthesis of carbohydrates, lipids, and steroid hormones; detoxification of medications and poisons; and storage of calcium ions.

Key Terms

  • lumen: The cavity or channel within a tube or tubular organ.
  • reticulum: A network

The Endoplasmic Reticulum

The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is a series of interconnected membranous sacs and tubules that collectively modifies proteins and synthesizes lipids. However, these two functions are performed in separate areas of the ER: the rough ER and the smooth ER. The hollow portion of the ER tubules is called the lumen or cisternal space. The membrane of the ER, which is a phospholipid bilayer embedded with proteins, is continuous with the nuclear envelope.

Rough ER

The rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) is so named because the ribosomes attached to its cytoplasmic surface give it a studded appearance when viewed through an electron microscope. Ribosomes transfer their newly synthesized proteins into the lumen of the RER where they undergo structural modifications, such as folding or the acquisition of side chains. These modified proteins will be incorporated into cellular membranes—the membrane of the ER or those of other organelles —or secreted from the cell (such as protein hormones, enzymes ). The RER also makes phospholipids for cellular membranes. If the phospholipids or modified proteins are not destined to stay in the RER, they will reach their destinations via transport vesicles that bud from the RER’s membrane. Since the RER is engaged in modifying proteins (such as enzymes, for example) that will be secreted from the cell, the RER is abundant in cells that secrete proteins. This is the case with cells of the liver, for example.

image

Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum: This transmission electron micrograph shows the rough endoplasmic reticulum and other organelles in a pancreatic cell.

Smooth ER

The smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER) is continuous with the RER but has few or no ribosomes on its cytoplasmic surface. Functions of the SER include synthesis of carbohydrates, lipids, and steroid hormones; detoxification of medications and poisons; and storage of calcium ions. In muscle cells, a specialized SER called the sarcoplasmic reticulum is responsible for storage of the calcium ions that are needed to trigger the coordinated contractions of the muscle cells.