What is a Receptor?

Art & Research: Kadir Özler

Further Reading Literature: Kadir Özler

What is a receptor and what does it do?

Receptors are proteins that cells have on their surface or within that are used to "bind" (or attach) to signals from the environment so that the cell can respond. Receptors are very important for communication between cells.

These signals from the environment are called ligands, and these ligands are the targets that receptors bind in order to allow a response from the cell.

This is like one cell high-fiving another cell to send a signal to that target cell, only a little more complex.

Receptor + Ligand

You can imagine Cell A's receptor as an open hand. The target cell, Cell B, can put one of its proteins (the ligand for Cell A) into the open hand of Cell A, like putting a fist into someone's open hand. If this fist, or ligand, is the correct protein for Cell A's receptor, Cell A can respond to this ligand.

Receptors are very complex proteins with grooves and folds, so when a ligand that fits these grooves and folds very well into the receptor comes along, the cell can recognize this target protein because of this correct fit.

Diversity of Receptors

All cells within the body have receptors, but not every cell has the same receptors present.

This makes sense since the cells in the eye serve different functions than cells in the intestine.

For example, vision-related ocular nerves can release ligands that bind to receptors on other neurons that eventually carry the information from what we see to the brain. In the gut, the contents of our food, like sugars, can act as ligands and bind to receptors on our intestinal cells. This allows the gut to recognize the food particles and then absorb them for digestion.

Cell Signaling

Cells can signal to each other across the body by traveling through the blood supply, directly touching one another, or even sending their own signals to themselves. A cell receiving all of these signals simultaneously must balance which to respond to based on a variety of factors (Alcohol Health Research World).

Thus, your whole body is connected and functions with cells giving each other bursts of bits of information!

Want to learn more about this topic?

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