BSc Medical Biochemistry / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Cell Membrane Structure & Function

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL21141
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Membranes and their associated proteins have a key role in transferring information inside and between cells and transporting ions and solutes. You will learn about the structure, organisation and function of cellular membranes, as well as diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, that arise from defects in cell membrane function.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Biochemistry BIOL10212 Pre-Requisite Recommended
From Molecules to Cells BIOL10232 Pre-Requisite Recommended


To provide an understanding of the structure, organisation and function of cellular membranes. Particular emphasis will be placed on membrane composition and organisation, and involvement of membranes and membrane proteins in ion and solute transport, signal transduction and vesicular transport. Diseases that arise from defects in these processes will be used to exemplify the importance of this topic to life science.

Learning outcomes

Students will have an understanding of:

  • How the biochemical and biophysical properties of membranes constituents contribute to the structure and organisation of membranes
  • Cell compartmentalisation and how proteins are transported between organelles.
  • The principles and organisation of signal transduction pathways
  • How ions and solutes are transported across membranes


Membrane Structure and Function
These lectures will describe the composition of biological membranes, and how the constituent lipids and proteins determine membrane identity and physical properties. How membrane domains are formed and the dynamic properties of membranes will also be covered.

Signalling From Membranes
The general principles of signalling will be introduced. The lectures will describe enzyme-linked receptors and G-protein-coupled receptors, and how membrane lipids act as signalling mediators. The mechanisms by which signalling is terminated and how membranes participate in organisation of signalling pathways will also be covered.

Membrane Transporters and Ion Channels
Membrane transport and transport proteins will be introduced. Active and passive transport, facilitated transport, and secondary active transport will be described. Appropriate examples will be used to illustrate the key points. Ion channel gating and channel permeability and selectivity will be covered, with examples of how defects in these processes leads to disease.

Membrane Trafficking
There will be an overview of the endomembrane system and membrane trafficking pathways. The lectures will describe the molecular machinery that is required for formation of membrane carriers, their movement within the cell, and how they fuse with target compartments to deliver their contents. Emphasis will be given to the mechanisms underlying these processes. The secretory and endocytic pathways and their role in health and disease will be covered.

e-Learning Activity
• Discussion forum
• Problem questions with worked answers

Employability skills

Analytical skills
EPBL assignments where critical assessment of scientific data is required.
Problem solving
On-line short answer and problem-based questions that form part of coursework.
Written communication
Written problem questions that form part of coursework. Written examinations in January comprised of short answer and essay questions.

Assessment methods

Assessment to be confirmed.


Feedback methods


  • Post-exam clinic
  • Feedback on problem-based questions built into assessment

Recommended reading

•  Alberts B, Heald, R, Johnson A, Lewis J, Morgan, D, Raff M, Roberts K & Walter P (2022) Molecular Biology of the Cell (7th edition). W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., chapters 9-13 and 15. (Recommended).


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 76.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Martin Lowe Unit coordinator

Additional notes


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