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Endocytosis and Exocytosis

Written by tutor Aleli C.

The movement of macromolecules such as proteins or polysaccharides into or out of the cell is called bulk transport. There are two types of bulk transport, exocytosis and endocytosis, and both require the expenditure of energy (ATP).

In exocytosis, materials are exported out of the cell via secretory vesicles. In this process, the Golgi complex packages macromolecules into transport vesicles that travel to and fuse with the plasma membrane. This fusion causes the vesicle to spill its contents out of the cell. Exocytosis is important in expulsion of waste materials out of the cell and in the secretion of cellular products such as digestive enzymes or hormones.


Endocytosis, on the other hand, is the process by which materials move into the cell. There are three types of endocytosis: phagocytosis, pinocytosis, and receptor-mediated endocytosis. In phagocytosis or “cellular eating,” the cell’s plasma membrane surrounds a macromolecule or even an entire cell from the extracellular environment and buds off to form a food vacuole or phagosome. The newly-formed phagosome then fuses with a lysosome whose hydrolytic enzymes digest the “food” inside.


In pinocytosis or “cellular drinking,” the cell engulfs drops of fluid by pinching in and forming vesicles that are smaller than the phagosomes formed in phagocytosis. Like phagocytosis, pinocytosis is a non-specific process in which the cell takes in whatever solutes that are dissolved in the liquid it envelops.

A cell diagram labeled with the steps of pinocytosis

Unlike phagocytosis and pinocytosis, receptor-mediated endocytosis is an extremely selective process of importing materials into the cell. This specificity is mediated by receptor proteins located on depressed areas of the cell membrane called coated pits. The cytosolic surface of coated pits is covered by coat proteins. In receptor-mediated endocytosis, the cell will only take in an extracellular molecule if it binds to its specific receptor protein on the cell’s surface. Once bound, the coated pit on which the bound receptor protein is located then invaginates, or pinches in, to form a coated vesicle. Similar to the digestive process in non-specific phagocytosis, this coated vesicle then fuses with a lysosome to digest the engulfed material and release it into the cytosol. Mammalian cells use receptor-mediated endocytosis to take cholesterol into cells. Cholesterol in the blood is usually found in lipid-protein complexes called low-density lipoproteins (LDLs). LDLs bind to specific receptor proteins on the cell surface, thereby triggering their uptake by receptor-mediated endocytosis.

A cell diagram labeled with the steps of receptor-mediated endocytosis

Endocytosis and Exocytosis Quiz

What is the process by which materials are exported out of the cell?

A. phagocytosis
B. exocytosis
C. endocytosis
D. bulk transport
The correct answer here would be B.

Mammalian cells use __________ to import cholesterol.

A. pinocytosis
B. phagocytosis
C. endocytosis
D. receptor-mediated endocytosis
The correct answer here would be D.

True or False: Bulk transport does not require the cell expend energy.

A. True
B. False
The correct answer here would be B.

True or False: Pinocytosis is the process of “cellular drinking.”

A. True
B. False
The correct answer here would be A.

True or False: Phagosomes must fuse with lysosomes to digest imported materials.

A. True
B. False
The correct answer here would be A.
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