Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum

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Created by: Team Biology at, Last Updated: May 7, 2024

Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum

The rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) stands out as a pivotal cellular structure in both protein synthesis and distribution. Residing within the cytoplasm, the RER is especially notable for its surface studded with ribosomes, which gives it a characteristic “rough” appearance under a microscope. This organelle plays a crucial role not only in the synthesis of proteins destined for secretion but also in their folding and quality control. The RER’s strategic interactions with the ribosomes enable the efficient targeting and modification of newly synthesized peptides, making it indispensable for maintaining cellular function and health.

What is Endoplasmic Reticulum?

The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is a critical organelle in eukaryotic cells, serving as a central hub for both biosynthesis and transport. Structurally, it forms an interconnected network of tubules and sac-like structures known as cisternae, sprawling throughout the cytoplasm. The ER is versatile, playing several vital roles within the cell.

What is Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum?

The rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) is an essential organelle found in eukaryotic cells. It distinguishes itself from the smooth endoplasmic reticulum by the presence of ribosomes attached to its surface, which are responsible for protein synthesis. The RER’s primary function involves the translation, folding, and modification of proteins that are destined either for secretion out of the cell or for use in various cellular membranes.

Characteristics of Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum

The rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) is a pivotal organelle in the cell, characterized by its unique structure and essential functions. Here are the key characteristics of the rough endoplasmic reticulum:


  • Surface Coated with Ribosomes: The RER is named for its rough appearance under a microscope, which is due to the ribosomes attached to its cytoplasmic surface. These ribosomes are sites of protein synthesis.
  • Membranous Network: It consists of a series of interconnected membranous sacs and tubules. The RER’s structure allows it to serve as a conduit for the transport of synthesized proteins.


  • Protein Synthesis: The RER is integral to the synthesis of proteins destined for secretion out of the cell, incorporation into the cell membrane, or use in lysosomes.
  • Post-Translational Modifications: Proteins synthesized in the ribosomes attached to the RER undergo various modifications, such as folding and the addition of carbohydrate (glycosylation) groups.
  • Quality Control: The RER plays a crucial role in quality control, ensuring that only properly folded proteins move forward to the Golgi apparatus for further processing.

Role in Cellular Activities

  • Synthesis of Membrane Lipids: Besides proteins, the RER is involved in the synthesis of phospholipids and cholesterol, components of cellular membranes.
  • Intracellular Transport: The RER serves as a starting point for the intracellular transport system. Proteins and lipids are transported from the RER to other parts of the cell, including the Golgi apparatus and cell surface.
  • Calcium Storage: It is also involved in calcium storage, crucial for cellular signaling pathways.

Structure of the Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum

1. Membrane Structure

The RER consists of a series of interconnected, flattened sacs called cisternae. These membranous structures are extensive and convoluted, extending from the outer nuclear membrane into the cytoplasm. The membrane of the RER is phospholipid bilayer, embedded with proteins that perform or regulate its functions.

2. Ribosomes

Attached to the outer surface of the RER membrane are ribosomes, which are the sites of protein synthesis. These ribosomes are either bound to the membrane or free in the cytoplasm, but it is the membrane-bound ribosomes that give the RER its rough appearance. The ribosomes assemble amino acids into protein chains, which then pass into the lumen of the RER for further processing.

3. Lumen (Cisternal Space)

The interior space of the RER is known as the lumen or cisternal space. This is where newly synthesized proteins undergo folding and post-translational modifications, such as glycosylation—the addition of carbohydrate groups to the protein. The environment within the lumen facilitates the correct folding of proteins, aided by molecular chaperones.

4. Associated Molecules

Numerous enzymes and molecular chaperones reside within the RER lumen, assisting in the modification and proper folding of proteins. These molecules are crucial for maintaining the quality control of synthesized proteins, ensuring that only correctly folded proteins are sent to their next destinations, such as the Golgi apparatus.

5. Connection to Other Cellular Structures

The RER is physically and functionally connected to the nuclear envelope, which surrounds the nucleus. This connection allows for the direct insertion of certain types of proteins into the RER from the nucleus. Additionally, the RER is closely linked to the smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER), where more specialized functions such as lipid synthesis and detoxification occur. Transitions between the rough and smooth regions are seamless, reflecting the dynamic nature of the ER based on cellular needs.

Functions of Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum

Functions of Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum

Protein Synthesis

  • Site of Translation: The RER is equipped with ribosomes on its surface, where the translation of mRNA into polypeptide chains occurs. This is especially significant for proteins that are to be secreted from the cell, embedded in cell membranes, or shipped to lysosomes.
  • Initial Protein Folding: Newly synthesized proteins undergo initial folding within the RER. Proper folding is crucial for the protein’s functionality and stability.

Post-Translational Modifications

  • Glycosylation: The RER modifies proteins by adding carbohydrate groups in a process called glycosylation. This modification is essential for protein stability, solubility, and later recognition by other cellular components.
  • Formation of Disulfide Bonds: Proteins that require disulfide bonds for stability and function have these bonds introduced within the environment of the RER.

Quality Control

  • Ensuring Proper Folding: The RER houses molecular chaperones that assist in protein folding. Misfolded proteins are typically retained within the RER until they are correctly folded.
  • Degradation of Misfolded Proteins: Proteins that cannot be correctly folded are tagged for degradation in a process known as ER-associated degradation (ERAD), preventing the accumulation of dysfunctional proteins.

Membrane Lipid Synthesis

  • Phospholipid Production: The RER is involved in the synthesis of phospholipids, which are critical components of cellular membranes.
  • Cholesterol Synthesis: It also plays a role in the synthesis of cholesterol, another vital component of cell membranes, especially in animal cells.

Intracellular Transport

  • Transport Vesicle Formation: The RER packages proteins into vesicles that bud off from its membrane. These vesicles transport proteins to their next destination, typically the Golgi apparatus, for further processing and sorting.

Calcium Storage and Release

  • Calcium Ion Storage: The RER serves as a storage site for calcium ions, which are crucial for numerous cellular processes, including muscle contraction, neurotransmitter release, and enzyme activity.
  • Regulation of Calcium Levels: It regulates intracellular calcium levels, releasing calcium ions in response to cellular signals, thus playing a critical role in signal transduction pathways.

Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum in Plant Cells


In plant cells, the RER is involved in the synthesis of:

  • Enzymes crucial for the cell’s metabolic processes.
  • Structural proteins needed for cell architecture.
  • Storage proteins, which are important, especially in seeds.

Location and Structure

In plant cells, the rough endoplasmic reticulum is typically located near the nucleus, which facilitates the efficient transport of mRNA from the nucleus to the ribosomes on the RER. The structure of the RER is a network of membranous tubules and flattened sacs. The ribosomes attached to the RER are sites where the cell’s proteins are synthesized.

Role in Plant Cells

Protein Synthesis and Modification

The primary function of the RER in plant cells is to synthesize proteins. These proteins undergo folding and modification, such as the addition of sugar groups, within the RER. This process is known as glycosylation, which is crucial for the stability and functionality of proteins.

Production of Membrane Components

The RER is also responsible for the production of phospholipids and other components of cellular membranes. This function is essential for the growth and maintenance of the cell’s various organelles.

Interaction with Other Cell Organelles

The RER works closely with the Golgi apparatus, another cell organelle. Proteins synthesized in the RER are packaged into vesicles and sent to the Golgi apparatus for further processing and sorting. This coordinated workflow ensures that proteins reach their correct destinations, whether within the cell or for export.

Importance in Plant Growth and Development

The rough endoplasmic reticulum is indispensable in plants. It supports various functions, from growth and development to the production of defensive compounds against pests. The proteins and enzymes synthesized by the RER are fundamental in:

  • Photosynthesis
  • Cell wall synthesis
  • Stress response mechanisms

Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum in Animal Cells


The RER is an interconnected network of membranous sacs and tubules. Its structure is pivotal for its function. The ribosomes, which are small complexes of RNA and protein, are attached to the cytoplasmic side of the RER’s membrane. These ribosomes are the sites of protein synthesis. The newly synthesized proteins are translocated into the lumen of the RER, where they undergo folding and modifications.


  1. Protein Synthesis: The primary function of the RER is to synthesize proteins that are usually destined for export out of the cell, incorporation into the cell membrane, or for use in lysosomes. Examples include hormones and enzymes.
  2. Post-translational Modifications: Proteins synthesized at the RER undergo various modifications such as glycosylation, where sugars are added, making glycoproteins. This modification is crucial for protein stability and function.

Significance in Animal Cells

In animal cells, the rough endoplasmic reticulum is particularly significant in cells that are responsible for producing large amounts of proteins for secretion. For instance, plasma cells and other immune cells rely heavily on the RER for the production of antibodies. Additionally, the RER is vital in liver cells for the production of plasma proteins and detoxification enzymes.

Formation Process of Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum

The formation of the rough endoplasmic reticulum can be understood through several key steps:

  1. Origination from the Nucleus:
    • The RER originates from the outer membrane of the nuclear envelope, which itself is contiguous with the endoplasmic reticulum. This shared membrane allows for a seamless transition of materials and information between the nucleus and the RER.
  2. Ribosome Binding:
    • Ribosomes are synthesized in the nucleolus and assembled in the cytoplasm. They bind to the RER membrane via a docking protein known as the ribophorin. This binding is crucial for the RER’s rough appearance and its functional capabilities in protein synthesis.
  3. Protein Synthesis and Translocation:
    • As proteins are synthesized by the ribosomes, they are co-translationally translocated into the lumen of the RER. This process involves the opening of a channel, the translocon, on the RER membrane, through which the growing peptide chains are fed into the interior.
  4. Post-translational Modifications and Folding:
    • Inside the RER, the new proteins undergo various modifications, such as folding, cutting, and addition of carbohydrate groups. These modifications are critical for the proper functioning of proteins once they reach their target destinations.
  5. Quality Control:
    • The RER also has mechanisms to ensure that only properly folded proteins proceed to the Golgi apparatus for further processing and sorting. Misfolded proteins are typically retained within the RER to be corrected or degraded.
  6. Expansion and Maintenance:
    • The RER can expand by incorporating more ribosomes and enlarging its membrane surface area to meet increased protein synthesis demands. This adaptability is crucial during cell growth and in response to physiological changes.

Clinical Significance of Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum

Protein Folding Diseases

  • Role in Protein Misfolding: The RER is crucial in ensuring proteins fold correctly. Diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease are associated with the accumulation of misfolded proteins, which can be traced back to RER dysfunction.
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress: Conditions that lead to the accumulation of unfolded or misfolded proteins in the RER trigger a cellular stress response known as the unfolded protein response (UPR). Chronic ER stress is implicated in several diseases, including diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders.

Drug Target

  • Pharmacological Chaperones: Drugs designed to assist in the correct folding of proteins, known as pharmacological chaperones, often target processes occurring in the RER. These are particularly important in the treatment of diseases like Gaucher’s disease and Fabry disease, where specific protein misfolding is a central problem.
  • Inhibitors of Protein Synthesis: Certain antibiotics and anticancer drugs work by targeting the ribosomes on the RER, inhibiting protein synthesis. This effect can kill bacteria or slow down the growth of cancer cells.

Immune System Function

  • Antigen Processing: The RER plays a critical role in the immune system by helping in the processing and presentation of antigens. This is crucial for the recognition of pathogens and the activation of the immune response, especially in the context of viral infections and cancer.

Liver Function

  • Protein Production: The liver, which is rich in RER, is responsible for producing various plasma proteins, including albumin and clotting factors. Dysfunction in the RER can lead to liver diseases affecting the synthesis of these critical proteins.

Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering

  • Recombinant Protein Production: The RER’s role in protein synthesis is exploited in biotechnology for the production of recombinant proteins, including hormones like insulin or therapeutic antibodies. Enhancing RER function in cultured cells can increase yield and efficiency of protein production.

Calcium Homeostasis

  • Calcium Storage: The RER’s ability to store and release calcium ions makes it important in diseases related to calcium dysregulation, such as certain muscular and cardiovascular diseases. Manipulating RER functions can be a strategy to treat these conditions.


What is the Primary Function of the Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum?

The primary function of the rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) is to synthesize and process proteins destined for secretion or membrane use.

What is the Difference Between the Smooth ER and the Rough ER?

The smooth ER lacks ribosomes and focuses on lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, while the rough ER has ribosomes for protein synthesis.

What is the Endoplasmic Reticulum and Its Functions?

The endoplasmic reticulum is a cell organelle that synthesizes proteins and lipids, and regulates calcium levels, vital for various cellular processes.

What Does the Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum Do?

The rough endoplasmic reticulum synthesizes membrane-bound and secretory proteins, and conducts their initial folding and modification.

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