The Endomembrane System and Proteins


In addition to their role as the digestive component and organelle-recycling facility of animal cells, lysosomes are part of the endomembrane system. Lysosomes also use their hydrolytic enzymes to destroy pathogens (disease-causing organisms) that might enter the cell. A good example of this occurs in macrophages, a group of white blood cells which are part of your body’s immune system. In a process that scientists call phagocytosis or endocytosis, a section of the macrophage's plasma membrane invaginates (folds in) and engulfs a pathogen. The invaginated section, with the pathogen inside, then pinches itself off from the plasma membrane and becomes a vesicle. The vesicle fuses with a lysosome. The lysosome’s hydrolytic enzymes then destroy the pathogen (Figure).

In this illustration, a eukaryotic cell is shown consuming a bacterium. As the bacterium is consumed, it is encapsulated in a vesicle. The vesicle fuses with a lysosome, and proteins inside the lysosome digest the bacterium.
A macrophage has engulfed (phagocytized) a potentially pathogenic bacterium and then fuses with lysosomes within the cell to destroy the pathogen. Other organelles are present in the cell but for simplicity we do not show them.