Primary Active Transport
The primary active transport that functions with the active transport of sodium and potassium allows secondary active transport to occur. The second transport method is still active because it depends on using energy as does primary transport (Figure).
One of the most important pumps in animal cells is the sodium-potassium pump (Na+-K+ ATPase), which maintains the electrochemical gradient (and the correct concentrations of Na+ and K+) in living cells. The sodium-potassium pump moves K+ into the cell while moving Na+ out at the same time, at a ratio of three Na+ for every two K+ ions moved in. The Na+-K+ ATPase exists in two forms, depending on its orientation to the cell's interior or exterior and its affinity for either sodium or potassium ions. The process consists of the following six steps.
- With the enzyme oriented towards the cell's interior, the carrier has a high affinity for sodium ions. Three ions bind to the protein.
- The protein carrier hydrolyzes ATP and a low-energy phosphate group attaches to it.
- As a result, the carrier changes shape and reorients itself towards the membrane's exterior. The protein’s affinity for sodium decreases and the three sodium ions leave the carrier.
- The shape change increases the carrier’s affinity for potassium ions, and two such ions attach to the protein. Subsequently, the low-energy phosphate group detaches from the carrier.
- With the phosphate group removed and potassium ions attached, the carrier protein repositions itself towards the cell's interior.
- The carrier protein, in its new configuration, has a decreased affinity for potassium, and the two ions moves into the cytoplasm. The protein now has a higher affinity for sodium ions, and the process starts again.
Several things have happened as a result of this process. At this point, there are more sodium ions outside the cell than inside and more potassium ions inside than out. For every three sodium ions that move out, two potassium ions move in. This results in the interior being slightly more negative relative to the exterior. This difference in charge is important in creating the conditions necessary for the secondary process. The sodium-potassium pump is, therefore, an electrogenic pump (a pump that creates a charge imbalance), creating an electrical imbalance across the membrane and contributing to the membrane potential.
Link to Learning
Watch this video to see an active transport simulation in a sodium-potassium ATPase.