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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Understand how electrochemical gradients affect ions
  • Distinguish between primary active transport and secondary active transport

Active transport mechanisms require the use of the cell’s energy, usually in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). If a substance must move into the cell against its concentration gradient—that is, if the concentration of the substance inside the cell is greater than its concentration in the extracellular fluid (and vice versa)—the cell must use energy to move the substance. Some active transport mechanisms move small-molecular weight materials, such as ions, through the membrane. Other mechanisms transport much larger molecules.

Electrochemical gradient

We have discussed simple concentration gradients—differential concentrations of a substance across a space or a membrane—but in living systems, gradients are more complex. Because ions move into and out of cells and because cells contain proteins that do not move across the membrane and are mostly negatively charged, there is also an electrical gradient, a difference of charge, across the plasma membrane. The interior of living cells is electrically negative with respect to the extracellular fluid in which they are bathed, and at the same time, cells have higher concentrations of potassium (K + ) and lower concentrations of sodium (Na + ) than does the extracellular fluid. So in a living cell, the concentration gradient of Na + tends to drive it into the cell, and the electrical gradient of Na + (a positive ion) also tends to drive it inward to the negatively charged interior. The situation is more complex, however, for other elements such as potassium. The electrical gradient of K + , a positive ion, also tends to drive it into the cell, but the concentration gradient of K + tends to drive K + out of the cell ( [link] ). The combined gradient of concentration and electrical charge that affects an ion is called its electrochemical gradient    .

Art connection

This illustration shows a membrane bilayer with a potassium channel embedded in it. The cytoplasm has a high concentration of potassium associated with a negatively charged molecule. The extracellular fluid has a high concentration of sodium associated with chlorine ions.
Electrochemical gradients arise from the combined effects of concentration gradients and electrical gradients. (credit: “Synaptitude”/Wikimedia Commons)

Injection of a potassium solution into a person’s blood is lethal; this is used in capital punishment and euthanasia. Why do you think a potassium solution injection is lethal?

Moving against a gradient

To move substances against a concentration or electrochemical gradient, the cell must use energy. This energy is harvested from ATP generated through the cell’s metabolism. Active transport mechanisms, collectively called pumps , work against electrochemical gradients. Small substances constantly pass through plasma membranes. Active transport maintains concentrations of ions and other substances needed by living cells in the face of these passive movements. Much of a cell’s supply of metabolic energy may be spent maintaining these processes. (Most of a red blood cell’s metabolic energy is used to maintain the imbalance between exterior and interior sodium and potassium levels required by the cell.) Because active transport mechanisms depend on a cell’s metabolism for energy, they are sensitive to many metabolic poisons that interfere with the supply of ATP.

Questions & Answers

What is ecology
Hebert Reply
what is cell
Etama Reply
cell is the basic unit of life
Asiatou
cell is the basic structural and functional unit of an living organism
Darshan
a cell is the smallest and most basic unit of a living thing
John
cell is the basic unit of life. we are made up of 60,000 billions of cells.Each cell carry out a specific function in the body.
Pallavi
A cell is the smallest basic functioning unit of life.
Ali
where is the pectoral gridle located?
Tiania Reply
What is hypotonic
Bright Reply
what is hypotonic
Dangaya
Hypotonic means weak solution
Ali
the difference between the two cells
Obeng Reply
explain the courses and the correction of lon term sightedness and short term sightedness
Isaac Reply
why drinking excess alcohol causes thirst and dehydration
uwikuzo Reply
Can we chat about nutrition please?
Elia
yes
Uzair
sure
Uzair
Uhm why is it so important to follow the nutritional process?
Elia
what is reproduction
smart Reply
it is d act of bringing young ones to life
Oyebanji
to ensure survival of a species🚴‍♀️
Michelle
what is a genotype
Collins
what is hazardous
smart
a cell is the smallest unit of a living thing. so we all have cell
smart
It is the formation of a zygote resulting from the fusion of the sperm cell with the ovum.Thus,this results in the production of new species which are genetically dissimilar from their parent cells.
Pallavi
what is size of cell
Mohd Reply
what is size of Hart
Mohd
nanometers=um sign thingie
Michelle
microns=nanometers
Michelle
monomers and polymers of nucleic acids?
Jyrl Reply
dna and rna involvement
Michelle
give me the elements of the soil
Iguma Reply
Air, water, organic matter, inorganic matter
Tshwano
soil water humus air
Veronicah
yap
Beloved
silica, iron
Patience
potassium, sulfur, calcium, carbon
Michelle
what is cell
iyaji Reply
A cell is a smallest fundamental unit of a living organisms.
Kem
the basic structural and functional unit of life
Patience
what is size of cell
Mohd
all things are made up of.....all things cannot exist without pre-exisiting cells...check out the 16th ce tury to learn more about microscope use and cells. i will give a hint: Mr. L.
Michelle
we are all made of cells
Michelle
Nutrition - sensitive intervention
Therowda Reply
what does the sori In fern mean
arhin Reply
biology is the study .exactly what is life?
Jerry
i'm sorry , the study of life
Jerry
How is food distributed to all parts of cytoplasm
Therowda
how can U identify a person through his blood
Frankyx Reply
through genetic fingerprinting where specific DNA sequences in a person genome can be identified.
Pallavi
by help of genetics and DNA test
Meerbadini
can it also be detected using an RNA test
Frankyx

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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