Difference between Channel and Carrier Proteins

The cell's membrane acts as a barrier between the inside of the cell and its surroundings. There is a lipid-protein membrane around all cells that is only partially permeable. Membrane proteins are a key component of the cell membrane and are responsible for its selective permeability and membrane transport. Proteins like these are crucial to life because cells need to be able to regulate the interplay between their internal and external environments. Channel and carrier proteins are fundamental component of membranes and are responsible for transporting substances across the membrane.

What are Channel Proteins?

Channel proteins are membrane proteins that may open up into hydrophilic pores (channels) and transport molecules in the direction of the concentration gradient.

Transport of a single molecule or several molecules of a similar kind through a membrane is enabled by channel proteins. They're very selective, have varying diameters, and are made up of electrically charged groups. The proteins that function as channels traverse the whole membrane, allowing the target molecules to diffuse across it. Polar and charged molecules can use this transport to bypass the hydrophobic inner membrane, which would otherwise slow down or halt their entry into the cell.

Neither the channel proteins nor the carried molecules are affected by their presence. The compounds may now be quickly transported over the membrane.

Although certain channel proteins remain open at all times, others can open and close in response to external stimuli (such as an electrical signal or the binding of a molecule). Closed channel proteins for sodium, potassium, and calcium ions are found in the membranes of cells involved in the transmission of electrical impulses (nerve and muscle cells). Electrical transmission across membranes in nerve cells and in muscle contraction rely heavily on the opening and closure of these channels and the subsequent changes in the concentration of these ions inside the cell.

These channel proteins are either open (activated) or closed (inactivated) by the following factors −

  • Potential-dependent channel proteins – activated by a change in the membrane potential;

  • Ligand-dependent channel proteins – activated by binding to a ligand-mediator, hormone;

  • Mechanically dependent channel proteins – activated by mechanical deformation of the cell membrane.

The chloride, potassium, calcium, and sodium ions channels are all examples of channel proteins. The channel proteins known as aquaporins are capable of rapidly transporting water across the membrane.

What are Carrier Proteins?

Carrier proteins are membrane-integral transporters that move molecules along or against the concentration gradient, depending on the nature of the material being transported.

To classify carrier proteins, we use the following criteria −

  • Uniporters – carry only one type of molecules or ions, against the concentration gradient;

  • Symporters – carry two or more different molecules or ions in one direction;

  • Antiporters – carry to opposite directions different molecules or ions.

Energy is needed to move compounds against the concentration gradient. Its vitality might come either from ATP or from the surrounding environment. Chemical and ionic species can move freely along a concentration gradient.

Certain proteins do what is known as secondary active transport, which makes advantage of assisted diffusion to propel the active transport of a different substance. The energy for this transport is not derived from ATP but rather from another source.

The functions of the carrier proteins include −

  • Transporting large molecules through the cell membrane (lipids, sugars, etc.);

  • Creating ion gradients, allowing:

  • Functioning of the mitochondria – the transport of protons through the membrane and the resulting gradient leads to the creation of ATP;

  • Functioning of the nerve cells – the sodium-potassium gradient is the power source of these cells;

  • Functioning of chloroplasts, etc.

Examples of carrier proteins are

  • Sodium-potassium pump – uses 20-25% of the ATP in the human cells to transport sodium and potassium ions outside the cell, against the gradient;

  • Glucose-sodium cotransport – indirectly uses ATP to power secondary active transport;

  • Valinomycin – carries potassium down the concentration gradient. It can destroy bacteria’s electrochemical gradients and is used as an antibiotic.

Differences: Channel and Carrier Protein

The following table highlights the major differences between Channel Proteins and Carrier Proteins −


Channel Proteins

Carrier Proteins


Hydrophilic pore-forming channel proteins are found in cell membranes and are responsible for the transport of molecules down the concentration gradient.

Carrier proteins are membrane proteins that may transport molecules either with or against the concentration gradient.

Direction of transport

Substances are transported "down the channel" via channel proteins.

Substances can be transported down or against the concentration gradient by using carrier proteins.

Mechanism of the transport

Channel proteins create transmembrane holes that are permeable to the molecules or ions of interest (through diffusion and without any entanglement).

Carrier proteins shuttle substances across membranes by binding to one side and then releasing their cargo on the other.


Potential-dependent, ligand- dependent, mechanically- dependent, and so on are only some of the names given to the many types of channel proteins based on the activating or inactivating factors.

Proteins that serve as transport carriers can be classified as uniporters, symporters, antiporters, and so on, depending on the nature of the transported molecules.

Energy consumption

Transporting molecules and ions down a concentration gradient does not require any additional energy from the protein channel doing the transport.

In order to transport molecules against the concentration gradient, carrier proteins require energy. Chemical and ionic species can move freely along a concentration gradient.


Aquaporins, ion channels for chloride, potassium, calcium, and sodium, and so on are all examples of channel proteins.

Sodium-potassium pump, glucose- sodium cotransport, valinomycin, etc. are all examples of carrier proteins.


In conclusion, channel and carrier proteins are both integral membrane proteins that are involved in the transport of molecules across biological membranes. However, they have distinct differences in terms of their structure, function, and mechanism of transport.

Channel proteins create a hydrophilic pore in the cell membrane and allow the passive diffusion of small molecules, while carrier proteins bind to a specific molecule and then undergo a conformational change to transport it across the membrane actively. Understanding the differences between these two types of proteins is crucial for understanding the process of transport across biological membranes.

Updated on: 30-Mar-2023


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