Smooth endoplasmic reticulum: a multipurpose organelle.

Smooth endoplasmic reticulum is found in a variety of cell types and it serves different functions in each. It consists of tubules and vesicles that branch forming a network. In some cells there are dilated areas like the sacs of rough endoplasmic reticulum. The network of smooth endoplasmic reticulum allows increased surface area for the action or storage of key enzymes and the products of these enzymes. In the case of smooth endoplasmic reticulum in muscle cells, the vesicles and tubules serve as a store of calcium which is released as one step in the contraction process. Calcium pumps serve to move the calcium.

This electron micrograph shows an area of smooth endoplasmic reticulum consisting of tortuous tubules and vesicles. This field is from a liver cell. The smooth endoplasmic reticulum serves to metabolize glycogen (which are deposited as black rosettes over the area), and it contains enzymes needed to detoxify drugs.

In adrenal cortical cells (as well as steroid producing cells in the gonads), the smooth endoplasmic reticulum serves to metabolize the steroids and produced the final steroid hormone. After the side chain of cholesterol is cleaved in the mitochondria, the product is passed to the smooth endoplasmic reticulum and further modified. Then, it is passed back to mitochondria for final modifications. Thus, the two organelles play a sort of "steroid volleyball" to produce the steroid hormone.

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Learn more about how proteins are handled in the rough endoplasmic reticulum
Study how proteins get to the Golgi Complex
Study the lysosomal sorting and packaging process

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Last updated: 06/04/01
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Gwen V. Childs, Ph.D.
text copyright 1996 Gwen V. Childs, Ph.D.