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Signaling between Organelles

Signaling between Organelles


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I'm confused about how organelles communicate with each other. I understand signaling between cells and the whole transcription and translation of DNA process. However, how does a motor protein know the destination of its package? How does a lysosome know when to break down a worn out organelle? How does the cell distribute ATP to the organelles where it's needed (how does it figure out where the ATP is needed?)?


There's no single common mechanism for intracellular communication, and some of the mechanisms (and some parts of some of the mechanisms) are known in much greater detail than other. For each of the processes you mention, we at least know that they proceed via very different mechanisms.

ATP distribution, for example, proceeds mostly by simple diffusion. ATP is a small molecule and is able to diffuse fast enough that it can move from one end of a cell to another in about ~20 ms on average [1].

Our picture of how ATP actually gets taken up by the various organelles is much murkier. For the case of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), there is evidence that ATP is brought in via an ATP/ADP antiporter [2]. Transporting ATP via an ATP/ADP antiporter would have the effect of keeping the ratio of ATP/ADP stable in both the cytosol and the ER. It is reasonable to assume that similar mechanisms control ATP transport across other organelle membranes, but you'd have to dig into the literature to find out details.

References

1: Diffusion coefficients of ATP and creatine phosphate in isolated muscle: pulsed gradient 31P NMR of small biological samples

2: Transport and transporters in the endoplasmic reticulum


Understanding cellular signaling and systems biology with precision: A perspective from ultrastructure and organelle studies in the Drosophila midgut

Drosophila midgut is an attractive model to study the systems biology questions of complex signaling integration, cell-cell signaling, and tissue communication.

The value of ultrastructure analysis in Drosophila midgut is discussed in both historical and contemporary perspectives.

Ultrastructure analysis reveals distinct features of different cell types in Drosophila midgut under normal and pathological conditions, inspiring further investigation of organelle functions in a complex tissue.

Emerging techniques, together with ultrastructure analysis, can make Drosophila midgut an ideal system to investigate the role of organelles in signaling integration.


Contents

In many small organisms such as bacteria, quorum sensing enables individuals to begin an activity only when the population is sufficiently large. This signaling between cells was first observed in the marine bacterium Aliivibrio fischeri, which produces light when the population is dense enough. [10] The mechanism involves the production and detection of a signaling molecule, and the regulation of gene transcription in response. Quorum sensing operates in both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, and both within and between species. [11]

In slime moulds, individual cells known as amoebae aggregate together to form fruiting bodies and eventually spores, under the influence of a chemical signal, originally named acrasin. The individuals move by chemotaxis, i.e. they are attracted by the chemical gradient. Some species use cyclic AMP as the signal others such as Polysphondylium violaceum use other molecules, in its case N-propionyl-gamma-L-glutamyl-L-ornithine-delta-lactam ethyl ester, nicknamed glorin. [12]

In plants and animals, signaling between cells occurs either through release into the extracellular space, divided in paracrine signaling (over short distances) and endocrine signaling (over long distances), or by direct contact, known as juxtacrine signaling (e.g., notch signaling). [13] Autocrine signaling is a special case of paracrine signaling where the secreting cell has the ability to respond to the secreted signaling molecule. [14] Synaptic signaling is a special case of paracrine signaling (for chemical synapses) or juxtacrine signaling (for electrical synapses) between neurons and target cells.

Synthesis and release Edit

Many cell signals are carried by molecules that are released by one cell and move to make contact with another cell. Signaling molecules can belong to several chemical classes: lipids, phospholipids, amino acids, monoamines, proteins, glycoproteins, or gases. Signaling molecules binding surface receptors are generally large and hydrophilic (e.g. TRH, Vasopressin, Acetylcholine), while those entering the cell are generally small and hydrophobic (e.g. glucocorticoids, thyroid hormones, cholecalciferol, retinoic acid), but important exceptions to both are numerous, and a same molecule can act both via surface receptors or in an intracrine manner to different effects. [14] In animal cells, specialized cells release these hormones and send them through the circulatory system to other parts of the body. They then reach target cells, which can recognize and respond to the hormones and produce a result. This is also known as endocrine signaling. Plant growth regulators, or plant hormones, move through cells or by diffusing through the air as a gas to reach their targets. [15] Hydrogen sulfide is produced in small amounts by some cells of the human body and has a number of biological signaling functions. Only two other such gases are currently known to act as signaling molecules in the human body: nitric oxide and carbon monoxide. [16]

Exocytosis Edit

Exocytosis is the process by which a cell transports molecules such as neurotransmitters and proteins out of the cell. As an active transport mechanism, exocytosis requires the use of energy to transport material. Exocytosis and its counterpart, endocytosis, are used by all cells because most chemical substances important to them are large polar molecules that cannot pass through the hydrophobic portion of the cell membrane by passive means. Exocytosis is the process by which a large amount of molecules are released thus it is a form of bulk transport. Exocytosis occurs via secretory portals at the cell plasma membrane called porosomes. Porosomes are permanent cup-shaped lipoprotein structure at the cell plasma membrane, where secretory vesicles transiently dock and fuse to release intra-vesicular contents from the cell.

In exocytosis, membrane-bound secretory vesicles are carried to the cell membrane, where they dock and fuse at porosomes and their contents (i.e., water-soluble molecules) are secreted into the extracellular environment. This secretion is possible because the vesicle transiently fuses with the plasma membrane. In the context of neurotransmission, neurotransmitters are typically released from synaptic vesicles into the synaptic cleft via exocytosis however, neurotransmitters can also be released via reverse transport through membrane transport proteins.

Forms Edit

Autocrine Edit

Autocrine signaling involves a cell secreting a hormone or chemical messenger (called the autocrine agent) that binds to autocrine receptors on that same cell, leading to changes in the cell itself. [17] This can be contrasted with paracrine signaling, intracrine signaling, or classical endocrine signaling.

Paracrine Edit

In paracrine signaling, a cell produces a signal to induce changes in nearby cells, altering the behaviour of those cells. Signaling molecules known as paracrine factors diffuse over a relatively short distance (local action), as opposed to cell signaling by endocrine factors, hormones which travel considerably longer distances via the circulatory system juxtacrine interactions and autocrine signaling. Cells that produce paracrine factors secrete them into the immediate extracellular environment. Factors then travel to nearby cells in which the gradient of factor received determines the outcome. However, the exact distance that paracrine factors can travel is not certain.

Paracrine signals such as retinoic acid target only cells in the vicinity of the emitting cell. [18] Neurotransmitters represent another example of a paracrine signal.

Some signaling molecules can function as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. For example, epinephrine and norepinephrine can function as hormones when released from the adrenal gland and are transported to the heart by way of the blood stream. Norepinephrine can also be produced by neurons to function as a neurotransmitter within the brain. [19] Estrogen can be released by the ovary and function as a hormone or act locally via paracrine or autocrine signaling. [20]

Although paracrine signaling elicits a diverse array of responses in the induced cells, most paracrine factors utilize a relatively streamlined set of receptors and pathways. In fact, different organs in the body - even between different species - are known to utilize a similar sets of paracrine factors in differential development. [21] The highly conserved receptors and pathways can be organized into four major families based on similar structures: fibroblast growth factor (FGF) family, Hedgehog family, Wnt family, and TGF-β superfamily. Binding of a paracrine factor to its respective receptor initiates signal transduction cascades, eliciting different responses.

Endocrine Edit

Endocrine signals are called hormones. Hormones are produced by endocrine cells and they travel through the blood to reach all parts of the body. Specificity of signaling can be controlled if only some cells can respond to a particular hormone. Endocrine signaling involves the release of hormones by internal glands of an organism directly into the circulatory system, regulating distant target organs. In vertebrates, the hypothalamus is the neural control center for all endocrine systems. In humans, the major endocrine glands are the thyroid gland and the adrenal glands. The study of the endocrine system and its disorders is known as endocrinology.

Juxtacrine Edit

Juxtacrine signaling is a type of cell–cell or cell–extracellular matrix signaling in multicellular organisms that requires close contact. There are three types:

  1. A membrane ligand (protein, oligosaccharide, lipid) and a membrane protein of two adjacent cells interact.
  2. A communicating junction links the intracellular compartments of two adjacent cells, allowing transit of relatively small molecules.
  3. An extracellular matrixglycoprotein and a membrane protein interact.

Additionally, in unicellular organisms such as bacteria, juxtacrine signaling means interactions by membrane contact. Juxtacrine signaling has been observed for some growth factors, cytokine and chemokine cellular signals, playing an important role in the immune response.

Cells receive information from their neighbors through a class of proteins known as receptors. Receptors may bind with some molecules (ligands) or may interact with physical agents like light, mechanical temperature, pressure, etc. Reception occurs when the target cell (any cell with a receptor protein specific to the signal molecule) detects a signal, usually in the form of a small, water-soluble molecule, via binding to a receptor protein on the cell surface, or once inside the cell, the signaling molecule can bind to intracellular receptors, other elements, or stimulate enzyme activity (e.g. gasses), as in intracrine signaling.

Signaling molecules interact with a target cell as a ligand to cell surface receptors, and/or by entering into the cell through its membrane or endocytosis for intracrine signaling. This generally results in the activation of second messengers, leading to various physiological effects. In many mammals, early embryo cells exchange signals with cells of the uterus. [22] In the human gastrointestinal tract, bacteria exchange signals with each other and with human epithelial and immune system cells. [23] For the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae during mating, some cells send a peptide signal (mating factor pheromones) into their environment. The mating factor peptide may bind to a cell surface receptor on other yeast cells and induce them to prepare for mating. [24]

Cell surface receptors Edit

Cell surface receptors play an essential role in the biological systems of single- and multi-cellular organisms and malfunction or damage to these proteins is associated with cancer, heart disease, and asthma. [25] These trans-membrane receptors are able to transmit information from outside the cell to the inside because they change conformation when a specific ligand binds to it. By looking at three major types of receptors: Ion channel linked receptors, G protein–coupled receptors, and enzyme-linked receptors).

Ion channel linked receptors Edit

Ion channel linked receptors are a group of transmembrane ion-channel proteins which open to allow ions such as Na + , K + , Ca 2+ , and/or Cl − to pass through the membrane in response to the binding of a chemical messenger (i.e. a ligand), such as a neurotransmitter. [26] [27] [28]

When a presynaptic neuron is excited, it releases a neurotransmitter from vesicles into the synaptic cleft. The neurotransmitter then binds to receptors located on the postsynaptic neuron. If these receptors are ligand-gated ion channels, a resulting conformational change opens the ion channels, which leads to a flow of ions across the cell membrane. This, in turn, results in either a depolarization, for an excitatory receptor response, or a hyperpolarization, for an inhibitory response.

These receptor proteins are typically composed of at least two different domains: a transmembrane domain which includes the ion pore, and an extracellular domain which includes the ligand binding location (an allosteric binding site). This modularity has enabled a 'divide and conquer' approach to finding the structure of the proteins (crystallising each domain separately). The function of such receptors located at synapses is to convert the chemical signal of presynaptically released neurotransmitter directly and very quickly into a postsynaptic electrical signal. Many LICs are additionally modulated by allosteric ligands, by channel blockers, ions, or the membrane potential. LICs are classified into three superfamilies which lack evolutionary relationship: cys-loop receptors, ionotropic glutamate receptors and ATP-gated channels.

G protein–coupled receptors Edit

G protein-coupled receptors are a large group of evolutionarily-related proteins that are cell surface receptors that detect molecules outside the cell and activate cellular responses. Coupling with G proteins, they are called seven-transmembrane receptors because they pass through the cell membrane seven times. [29] Ligands can bind either to extracellular N-terminus and loops (e.g. glutamate receptors) or to the binding site within transmembrane helices (Rhodopsin-like family). They are all activated by agonists although a spontaneous auto-activation of an empty receptor can also be observed. [29]

G protein-coupled receptors are found only in eukaryotes, including yeast, choanoflagellates, [30] and animals. The ligands that bind and activate these receptors include light-sensitive compounds, odors, pheromones, hormones, and neurotransmitters, and vary in size from small molecules to peptides to large proteins. G protein-coupled receptors are involved in many diseases.

There are two principal signal transduction pathways involving the G protein-coupled receptors: cAMP signal pathway and phosphatidylinositol signal pathway. [31] When a ligand binds to the GPCR it causes a conformational change in the GPCR, which allows it to act as a guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF). The GPCR can then activate an associated G protein by exchanging the GDP bound to the G protein for a GTP. The G protein's α subunit, together with the bound GTP, can then dissociate from the β and γ subunits to further affect intracellular signaling proteins or target functional proteins directly depending on the α subunit type (Gαs, Gαi/o, Gαq/11, Gα12/13). [32] : 1160

G protein-coupled receptors are an important drug target and approximately 34% [33] of all Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs target 108 members of this family. The global sales volume for these drugs is estimated to be 180 billion US dollars as of 2018 [update] . [33] It is estimated that GPCRs are targets for about 50% of drugs currently on the market, mainly due to their involvement in signaling pathways related to many diseases i.e. mental, metabolic including endocrinological disorders, immunological including viral infections, cardiovascular, inflammatory, senses disorders, and cancer. The long ago discovered association between GPCRs and many endogenous and exogenous substances, resulting in e.g. analgesia, is another dynamically developing field of the pharmaceutical research. [29]

Enzyme-linked receptors Edit

Enzyme-linked receptors (or catalytic receptors) are transmembrane receptor that, upon activation by an extracellular ligand, causes enzymatic activity on the intracellular side. [34] Hence a catalytic receptor is an integral membrane protein possessing both enzymatic, catalytic, and receptor functions. [35]

They have two important domains, an extra-cellular ligand binding domain and an intracellular domain, which has a catalytic function and a single transmembrane helix. The signaling molecule binds to the receptor on the outside of the cell and causes a conformational change on the catalytic function located on the receptor inside the cell. Examples of the enzymatic activity include:

Intracellular receptors Edit

Steroid hormone receptor Edit

Steroid hormone receptors are found in the nucleus, cytosol, and also on the plasma membrane of target cells. They are generally intracellular receptors (typically cytoplasmic or nuclear) and initiate signal transduction for steroid hormones which lead to changes in gene expression over a time period of hours to days. The best studied steroid hormone receptors are members of the nuclear receptor subfamily 3 (NR3) that include receptors for estrogen (group NR3A) [37] and 3-ketosteroids (group NR3C). [38] In addition to nuclear receptors, several G protein-coupled receptors and ion channels act as cell surface receptors for certain steroid hormones.

When binding to the signaling molecule, the receptor protein changes in some way and starts the process of transduction, which can occur in a single step or as a series of changes in a sequence of different molecules (called a signal transduction pathway). The molecules that compose these pathways are known as relay molecules. The multistep process of the transduction stage is often composed of the activation of proteins by addition or removal of phosphate groups or even the release of other small molecules or ions that can act as messengers. The amplifying of a signal is one of the benefits to this multiple step sequence. Other benefits include more opportunities for regulation than simpler systems do and the fine- tuning of the response, in both unicellular and multicellular organism. [15]

In some cases, receptor activation caused by ligand binding to a receptor is directly coupled to the cell's response to the ligand. For example, the neurotransmitter GABA can activate a cell surface receptor that is part of an ion channel. GABA binding to a GABAA receptor on a neuron opens a chloride-selective ion channel that is part of the receptor. GABAA receptor activation allows negatively charged chloride ions to move into the neuron, which inhibits the ability of the neuron to produce action potentials. However, for many cell surface receptors, ligand-receptor interactions are not directly linked to the cell's response. The activated receptor must first interact with other proteins inside the cell before the ultimate physiological effect of the ligand on the cell's behavior is produced. Often, the behavior of a chain of several interacting cell proteins is altered following receptor activation. The entire set of cell changes induced by receptor activation is called a signal transduction mechanism or pathway. [39]

A more complex signal transduction pathway is shown in Figure 3. This pathway involves changes of protein–protein interactions inside the cell, induced by an external signal. Many growth factors bind to receptors at the cell surface and stimulate cells to progress through the cell cycle and divide. Several of these receptors are kinases that start to phosphorylate themselves and other proteins when binding to a ligand. This phosphorylation can generate a binding site for a different protein and thus induce protein–protein interaction. In Figure 3, the ligand (called epidermal growth factor, or EGF) binds to the receptor (called EGFR). This activates the receptor to phosphorylate itself. The phosphorylated receptor binds to an adaptor protein (GRB2), which couples the signal to further downstream signaling processes. For example, one of the signal transduction pathways that are activated is called the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. The signal transduction component labeled as "MAPK" in the pathway was originally called "ERK," so the pathway is called the MAPK/ERK pathway. The MAPK protein is an enzyme, a protein kinase that can attach phosphate to target proteins such as the transcription factor MYC and, thus, alter gene transcription and, ultimately, cell cycle progression. Many cellular proteins are activated downstream of the growth factor receptors (such as EGFR) that initiate this signal transduction pathway. [ citation needed ]

Some signaling transduction pathways respond differently, depending on the amount of signaling received by the cell. For instance, the hedgehog protein activates different genes, depending on the amount of hedgehog protein present. [ citation needed ]

Complex multi-component signal transduction pathways provide opportunities for feedback, signal amplification, and interactions inside one cell between multiple signals and signaling pathways. [ citation needed ]

A specific cellular response is the result of the transduced signal in the final stage of cell signaling. This response can essentially be any cellular activity that is present in a body. It can spur the rearrangement of the cytoskeleton, or even as catalysis by an enzyme. These three steps of cell signaling all ensure that the right cells are behaving as told, at the right time, and in synchronization with other cells and their own functions within the organism. At the end, the end of a signal pathway leads to the regulation of a cellular activity. This response can take place in the nucleus or in the cytoplasm of the cell. A majority of signaling pathways control protein synthesis by turning certain genes on and off in the nucleus. [40]

In unicellular organisms such as bacteria, signaling can be used to 'activate' peers from a dormant state, enhance virulence, defend against bacteriophages, etc. [41] In quorum sensing, which is also found in social insects, the multiplicity of individual signals has the potentiality to create a positive feedback loop, generating coordinated response. In this context, the signaling molecules are called autoinducers. [42] [43] [44] This signaling mechanism may have been involved in evolution from unicellular to multicellular organisms. [42] [45] Bacteria also use contact-dependent signaling, notably to limit their growth. [46]

Signaling molecules used by multicellular organisms are often called pheromones. They can have such purposes as alerting against danger, indicating food supply, or assisting in reproduction. [47]

Short-term cellular responses Edit

Brief overview of some signaling pathways (based on receptor families) that result in short-acting cellular responses
Receptor Family Example of Ligands/ activators (Bracket: receptor for it) Example of effectors Further downstream effects
Ligand Gated Ion Channels Acetylcholine
(Such as Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor),
Changes in membrane permeability Change in membrane potential
Seven Helix Receptor Light(Rhodopsin),
Dopamine (Dopamine receptor),
GABA (GABA receptor),
Prostaglandin (prostaglandin receptor) etc.
Trimeric G protein Adenylate Cyclase,
cGMP phosphodiesterase,
G-protein gated ion channel, etc.
Two Component Diverse activators Histidine Kinase Response Regulator - flagellar movement, Gene expression
Membrane Guanylyl Cyclase Atrial natriuretic peptide,
Sea urching egg peptide etc.
cGMP Regulation of Kinases and channels- Diverse actions
Cytoplasmic Guanylyl cyclase Nitric Oxide(Nitric oxide receptor) cGMP Regulation of cGMP Gated channels, Kinases
Integrins Fibronectins, other extracellular matrix proteins Nonreceptor tyrosine kinase Diverse response

Regulating gene activity Edit

Brief overview of some signaling pathways (based on receptor families) that control gene activity
Frizzled (Special type of 7Helix receptor) Wnt Dishevelled, axin - APC, GSK3-beta - Beta catenin Gene expression
Two Component Diverse activators Histidine Kinase Response Regulator - flagellar movement, Gene expression
Receptor Tyrosine Kinase Insulin (insulin receptor),
EGF (EGF receptor),
FGF-Alpha, FGF-Beta, etc (FGF-receptors)
Ras, MAP-kinases, PLC, PI3-Kinase Gene expression change
Cytokine receptors Erythropoietin,
Growth Hormone (Growth Hormone Receptor),
IFN-Gamma (IFN-Gamma receptor) etc
JAK kinase STAT transcription factor - Gene expression
Tyrosine kinase Linked- receptors MHC-peptide complex - TCR, Antigens - BCR Cytoplasmic Tyrosine Kinase Gene expression
Receptor Serine/Threonine Kinase Activin(activin receptor),
Inhibin,
Bone-morphogenetic protein(BMP Receptor),
TGF-beta
Smad transcription factors Control of gene expression
Sphingomyelinase linked receptors IL-1(IL-1 receptor),
TNF (TNF-receptors)
Ceramide activated kinases Gene expression
Cytoplasmic Steroid receptors Steroid hormones,
Thyroid hormones,
Retinoic acid etc
Work as/ interact with transcription factors Gene expression

Notch signaling pathway Edit

Notch is a cell surface protein that functions as a receptor. Animals have a small set of genes that code for signaling proteins that interact specifically with Notch receptors and stimulate a response in cells that express Notch on their surface. Molecules that activate (or, in some cases, inhibit) receptors can be classified as hormones, neurotransmitters, cytokines, and growth factors, in general called receptor ligands. Ligand receptor interactions such as that of the Notch receptor interaction, are known to be the main interactions responsible for cell signaling mechanisms and communication. [52] notch acts as a receptor for ligands that are expressed on adjacent cells. While some receptors are cell-surface proteins, others are found inside cells. For example, estrogen is a hydrophobic molecule that can pass through the lipid bilayer of the membranes. As part of the endocrine system, intracellular estrogen receptors from a variety of cell types can be activated by estrogen produced in the ovaries.

In the case of Notch-mediated signaling, the signal transduction mechanism can be relatively simple. As shown in Figure 2, the activation of Notch can cause the Notch protein to be altered by a protease. Part of the Notch protein is released from the cell surface membrane and takes part in gene regulation. Cell signaling research involves studying the spatial and temporal dynamics of both receptors and the components of signaling pathways that are activated by receptors in various cell types. [53] [54] Emerging methods for single-cell mass-spectrometry analysis promise to enable studying signal transduction with single-cell resolution. [55]

In notch signaling, direct contact between cells allows for precise control of cell differentiation during embryonic development. In the worm Caenorhabditis elegans, two cells of the developing gonad each have an equal chance of terminally differentiating or becoming a uterine precursor cell that continues to divide. The choice of which cell continues to divide is controlled by competition of cell surface signals. One cell will happen to produce more of a cell surface protein that activates the Notch receptor on the adjacent cell. This activates a feedback loop or system that reduces Notch expression in the cell that will differentiate and that increases Notch on the surface of the cell that continues as a stem cell. [56]


Signaling between Organelles - Biology

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Contents

In many small organisms such as bacteria, quorum sensing enables individuals to begin an activity only when the population is sufficiently large. This signaling between cells was first observed in the marine bacterium Aliivibrio fischeri, which produces light when the population is dense enough. [10] The mechanism involves the production and detection of a signaling molecule, and the regulation of gene transcription in response. Quorum sensing operates in both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, and both within and between species. [11]

In slime moulds, individual cells known as amoebae aggregate together to form fruiting bodies and eventually spores, under the influence of a chemical signal, originally named acrasin. The individuals move by chemotaxis, i.e. they are attracted by the chemical gradient. Some species use cyclic AMP as the signal others such as Polysphondylium violaceum use other molecules, in its case N-propionyl-gamma-L-glutamyl-L-ornithine-delta-lactam ethyl ester, nicknamed glorin. [12]

In plants and animals, signaling between cells occurs either through release into the extracellular space, divided in paracrine signaling (over short distances) and endocrine signaling (over long distances), or by direct contact, known as juxtacrine signaling (e.g., notch signaling). [13] Autocrine signaling is a special case of paracrine signaling where the secreting cell has the ability to respond to the secreted signaling molecule. [14] Synaptic signaling is a special case of paracrine signaling (for chemical synapses) or juxtacrine signaling (for electrical synapses) between neurons and target cells.

Synthesis and release Edit

Many cell signals are carried by molecules that are released by one cell and move to make contact with another cell. Signaling molecules can belong to several chemical classes: lipids, phospholipids, amino acids, monoamines, proteins, glycoproteins, or gases. Signaling molecules binding surface receptors are generally large and hydrophilic (e.g. TRH, Vasopressin, Acetylcholine), while those entering the cell are generally small and hydrophobic (e.g. glucocorticoids, thyroid hormones, cholecalciferol, retinoic acid), but important exceptions to both are numerous, and a same molecule can act both via surface receptors or in an intracrine manner to different effects. [14] In animal cells, specialized cells release these hormones and send them through the circulatory system to other parts of the body. They then reach target cells, which can recognize and respond to the hormones and produce a result. This is also known as endocrine signaling. Plant growth regulators, or plant hormones, move through cells or by diffusing through the air as a gas to reach their targets. [15] Hydrogen sulfide is produced in small amounts by some cells of the human body and has a number of biological signaling functions. Only two other such gases are currently known to act as signaling molecules in the human body: nitric oxide and carbon monoxide. [16]

Exocytosis Edit

Exocytosis is the process by which a cell transports molecules such as neurotransmitters and proteins out of the cell. As an active transport mechanism, exocytosis requires the use of energy to transport material. Exocytosis and its counterpart, endocytosis, are used by all cells because most chemical substances important to them are large polar molecules that cannot pass through the hydrophobic portion of the cell membrane by passive means. Exocytosis is the process by which a large amount of molecules are released thus it is a form of bulk transport. Exocytosis occurs via secretory portals at the cell plasma membrane called porosomes. Porosomes are permanent cup-shaped lipoprotein structure at the cell plasma membrane, where secretory vesicles transiently dock and fuse to release intra-vesicular contents from the cell.

In exocytosis, membrane-bound secretory vesicles are carried to the cell membrane, where they dock and fuse at porosomes and their contents (i.e., water-soluble molecules) are secreted into the extracellular environment. This secretion is possible because the vesicle transiently fuses with the plasma membrane. In the context of neurotransmission, neurotransmitters are typically released from synaptic vesicles into the synaptic cleft via exocytosis however, neurotransmitters can also be released via reverse transport through membrane transport proteins.

Forms Edit

Autocrine Edit

Autocrine signaling involves a cell secreting a hormone or chemical messenger (called the autocrine agent) that binds to autocrine receptors on that same cell, leading to changes in the cell itself. [17] This can be contrasted with paracrine signaling, intracrine signaling, or classical endocrine signaling.

Paracrine Edit

In paracrine signaling, a cell produces a signal to induce changes in nearby cells, altering the behaviour of those cells. Signaling molecules known as paracrine factors diffuse over a relatively short distance (local action), as opposed to cell signaling by endocrine factors, hormones which travel considerably longer distances via the circulatory system juxtacrine interactions and autocrine signaling. Cells that produce paracrine factors secrete them into the immediate extracellular environment. Factors then travel to nearby cells in which the gradient of factor received determines the outcome. However, the exact distance that paracrine factors can travel is not certain.

Paracrine signals such as retinoic acid target only cells in the vicinity of the emitting cell. [18] Neurotransmitters represent another example of a paracrine signal.

Some signaling molecules can function as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. For example, epinephrine and norepinephrine can function as hormones when released from the adrenal gland and are transported to the heart by way of the blood stream. Norepinephrine can also be produced by neurons to function as a neurotransmitter within the brain. [19] Estrogen can be released by the ovary and function as a hormone or act locally via paracrine or autocrine signaling. [20]

Although paracrine signaling elicits a diverse array of responses in the induced cells, most paracrine factors utilize a relatively streamlined set of receptors and pathways. In fact, different organs in the body - even between different species - are known to utilize a similar sets of paracrine factors in differential development. [21] The highly conserved receptors and pathways can be organized into four major families based on similar structures: fibroblast growth factor (FGF) family, Hedgehog family, Wnt family, and TGF-β superfamily. Binding of a paracrine factor to its respective receptor initiates signal transduction cascades, eliciting different responses.

Endocrine Edit

Endocrine signals are called hormones. Hormones are produced by endocrine cells and they travel through the blood to reach all parts of the body. Specificity of signaling can be controlled if only some cells can respond to a particular hormone. Endocrine signaling involves the release of hormones by internal glands of an organism directly into the circulatory system, regulating distant target organs. In vertebrates, the hypothalamus is the neural control center for all endocrine systems. In humans, the major endocrine glands are the thyroid gland and the adrenal glands. The study of the endocrine system and its disorders is known as endocrinology.

Juxtacrine Edit

Juxtacrine signaling is a type of cell–cell or cell–extracellular matrix signaling in multicellular organisms that requires close contact. There are three types:

  1. A membrane ligand (protein, oligosaccharide, lipid) and a membrane protein of two adjacent cells interact.
  2. A communicating junction links the intracellular compartments of two adjacent cells, allowing transit of relatively small molecules.
  3. An extracellular matrixglycoprotein and a membrane protein interact.

Additionally, in unicellular organisms such as bacteria, juxtacrine signaling means interactions by membrane contact. Juxtacrine signaling has been observed for some growth factors, cytokine and chemokine cellular signals, playing an important role in the immune response.

Cells receive information from their neighbors through a class of proteins known as receptors. Receptors may bind with some molecules (ligands) or may interact with physical agents like light, mechanical temperature, pressure, etc. Reception occurs when the target cell (any cell with a receptor protein specific to the signal molecule) detects a signal, usually in the form of a small, water-soluble molecule, via binding to a receptor protein on the cell surface, or once inside the cell, the signaling molecule can bind to intracellular receptors, other elements, or stimulate enzyme activity (e.g. gasses), as in intracrine signaling.

Signaling molecules interact with a target cell as a ligand to cell surface receptors, and/or by entering into the cell through its membrane or endocytosis for intracrine signaling. This generally results in the activation of second messengers, leading to various physiological effects. In many mammals, early embryo cells exchange signals with cells of the uterus. [22] In the human gastrointestinal tract, bacteria exchange signals with each other and with human epithelial and immune system cells. [23] For the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae during mating, some cells send a peptide signal (mating factor pheromones) into their environment. The mating factor peptide may bind to a cell surface receptor on other yeast cells and induce them to prepare for mating. [24]

Cell surface receptors Edit

Cell surface receptors play an essential role in the biological systems of single- and multi-cellular organisms and malfunction or damage to these proteins is associated with cancer, heart disease, and asthma. [25] These trans-membrane receptors are able to transmit information from outside the cell to the inside because they change conformation when a specific ligand binds to it. By looking at three major types of receptors: Ion channel linked receptors, G protein–coupled receptors, and enzyme-linked receptors).

Ion channel linked receptors Edit

Ion channel linked receptors are a group of transmembrane ion-channel proteins which open to allow ions such as Na + , K + , Ca 2+ , and/or Cl − to pass through the membrane in response to the binding of a chemical messenger (i.e. a ligand), such as a neurotransmitter. [26] [27] [28]

When a presynaptic neuron is excited, it releases a neurotransmitter from vesicles into the synaptic cleft. The neurotransmitter then binds to receptors located on the postsynaptic neuron. If these receptors are ligand-gated ion channels, a resulting conformational change opens the ion channels, which leads to a flow of ions across the cell membrane. This, in turn, results in either a depolarization, for an excitatory receptor response, or a hyperpolarization, for an inhibitory response.

These receptor proteins are typically composed of at least two different domains: a transmembrane domain which includes the ion pore, and an extracellular domain which includes the ligand binding location (an allosteric binding site). This modularity has enabled a 'divide and conquer' approach to finding the structure of the proteins (crystallising each domain separately). The function of such receptors located at synapses is to convert the chemical signal of presynaptically released neurotransmitter directly and very quickly into a postsynaptic electrical signal. Many LICs are additionally modulated by allosteric ligands, by channel blockers, ions, or the membrane potential. LICs are classified into three superfamilies which lack evolutionary relationship: cys-loop receptors, ionotropic glutamate receptors and ATP-gated channels.

G protein–coupled receptors Edit

G protein-coupled receptors are a large group of evolutionarily-related proteins that are cell surface receptors that detect molecules outside the cell and activate cellular responses. Coupling with G proteins, they are called seven-transmembrane receptors because they pass through the cell membrane seven times. [29] Ligands can bind either to extracellular N-terminus and loops (e.g. glutamate receptors) or to the binding site within transmembrane helices (Rhodopsin-like family). They are all activated by agonists although a spontaneous auto-activation of an empty receptor can also be observed. [29]

G protein-coupled receptors are found only in eukaryotes, including yeast, choanoflagellates, [30] and animals. The ligands that bind and activate these receptors include light-sensitive compounds, odors, pheromones, hormones, and neurotransmitters, and vary in size from small molecules to peptides to large proteins. G protein-coupled receptors are involved in many diseases.

There are two principal signal transduction pathways involving the G protein-coupled receptors: cAMP signal pathway and phosphatidylinositol signal pathway. [31] When a ligand binds to the GPCR it causes a conformational change in the GPCR, which allows it to act as a guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF). The GPCR can then activate an associated G protein by exchanging the GDP bound to the G protein for a GTP. The G protein's α subunit, together with the bound GTP, can then dissociate from the β and γ subunits to further affect intracellular signaling proteins or target functional proteins directly depending on the α subunit type (Gαs, Gαi/o, Gαq/11, Gα12/13). [32] : 1160

G protein-coupled receptors are an important drug target and approximately 34% [33] of all Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs target 108 members of this family. The global sales volume for these drugs is estimated to be 180 billion US dollars as of 2018 [update] . [33] It is estimated that GPCRs are targets for about 50% of drugs currently on the market, mainly due to their involvement in signaling pathways related to many diseases i.e. mental, metabolic including endocrinological disorders, immunological including viral infections, cardiovascular, inflammatory, senses disorders, and cancer. The long ago discovered association between GPCRs and many endogenous and exogenous substances, resulting in e.g. analgesia, is another dynamically developing field of the pharmaceutical research. [29]

Enzyme-linked receptors Edit

Enzyme-linked receptors (or catalytic receptors) are transmembrane receptor that, upon activation by an extracellular ligand, causes enzymatic activity on the intracellular side. [34] Hence a catalytic receptor is an integral membrane protein possessing both enzymatic, catalytic, and receptor functions. [35]

They have two important domains, an extra-cellular ligand binding domain and an intracellular domain, which has a catalytic function and a single transmembrane helix. The signaling molecule binds to the receptor on the outside of the cell and causes a conformational change on the catalytic function located on the receptor inside the cell. Examples of the enzymatic activity include:

Intracellular receptors Edit

Steroid hormone receptor Edit

Steroid hormone receptors are found in the nucleus, cytosol, and also on the plasma membrane of target cells. They are generally intracellular receptors (typically cytoplasmic or nuclear) and initiate signal transduction for steroid hormones which lead to changes in gene expression over a time period of hours to days. The best studied steroid hormone receptors are members of the nuclear receptor subfamily 3 (NR3) that include receptors for estrogen (group NR3A) [37] and 3-ketosteroids (group NR3C). [38] In addition to nuclear receptors, several G protein-coupled receptors and ion channels act as cell surface receptors for certain steroid hormones.

When binding to the signaling molecule, the receptor protein changes in some way and starts the process of transduction, which can occur in a single step or as a series of changes in a sequence of different molecules (called a signal transduction pathway). The molecules that compose these pathways are known as relay molecules. The multistep process of the transduction stage is often composed of the activation of proteins by addition or removal of phosphate groups or even the release of other small molecules or ions that can act as messengers. The amplifying of a signal is one of the benefits to this multiple step sequence. Other benefits include more opportunities for regulation than simpler systems do and the fine- tuning of the response, in both unicellular and multicellular organism. [15]

In some cases, receptor activation caused by ligand binding to a receptor is directly coupled to the cell's response to the ligand. For example, the neurotransmitter GABA can activate a cell surface receptor that is part of an ion channel. GABA binding to a GABAA receptor on a neuron opens a chloride-selective ion channel that is part of the receptor. GABAA receptor activation allows negatively charged chloride ions to move into the neuron, which inhibits the ability of the neuron to produce action potentials. However, for many cell surface receptors, ligand-receptor interactions are not directly linked to the cell's response. The activated receptor must first interact with other proteins inside the cell before the ultimate physiological effect of the ligand on the cell's behavior is produced. Often, the behavior of a chain of several interacting cell proteins is altered following receptor activation. The entire set of cell changes induced by receptor activation is called a signal transduction mechanism or pathway. [39]

A more complex signal transduction pathway is shown in Figure 3. This pathway involves changes of protein–protein interactions inside the cell, induced by an external signal. Many growth factors bind to receptors at the cell surface and stimulate cells to progress through the cell cycle and divide. Several of these receptors are kinases that start to phosphorylate themselves and other proteins when binding to a ligand. This phosphorylation can generate a binding site for a different protein and thus induce protein–protein interaction. In Figure 3, the ligand (called epidermal growth factor, or EGF) binds to the receptor (called EGFR). This activates the receptor to phosphorylate itself. The phosphorylated receptor binds to an adaptor protein (GRB2), which couples the signal to further downstream signaling processes. For example, one of the signal transduction pathways that are activated is called the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. The signal transduction component labeled as "MAPK" in the pathway was originally called "ERK," so the pathway is called the MAPK/ERK pathway. The MAPK protein is an enzyme, a protein kinase that can attach phosphate to target proteins such as the transcription factor MYC and, thus, alter gene transcription and, ultimately, cell cycle progression. Many cellular proteins are activated downstream of the growth factor receptors (such as EGFR) that initiate this signal transduction pathway. [ citation needed ]

Some signaling transduction pathways respond differently, depending on the amount of signaling received by the cell. For instance, the hedgehog protein activates different genes, depending on the amount of hedgehog protein present. [ citation needed ]

Complex multi-component signal transduction pathways provide opportunities for feedback, signal amplification, and interactions inside one cell between multiple signals and signaling pathways. [ citation needed ]

A specific cellular response is the result of the transduced signal in the final stage of cell signaling. This response can essentially be any cellular activity that is present in a body. It can spur the rearrangement of the cytoskeleton, or even as catalysis by an enzyme. These three steps of cell signaling all ensure that the right cells are behaving as told, at the right time, and in synchronization with other cells and their own functions within the organism. At the end, the end of a signal pathway leads to the regulation of a cellular activity. This response can take place in the nucleus or in the cytoplasm of the cell. A majority of signaling pathways control protein synthesis by turning certain genes on and off in the nucleus. [40]

In unicellular organisms such as bacteria, signaling can be used to 'activate' peers from a dormant state, enhance virulence, defend against bacteriophages, etc. [41] In quorum sensing, which is also found in social insects, the multiplicity of individual signals has the potentiality to create a positive feedback loop, generating coordinated response. In this context, the signaling molecules are called autoinducers. [42] [43] [44] This signaling mechanism may have been involved in evolution from unicellular to multicellular organisms. [42] [45] Bacteria also use contact-dependent signaling, notably to limit their growth. [46]

Signaling molecules used by multicellular organisms are often called pheromones. They can have such purposes as alerting against danger, indicating food supply, or assisting in reproduction. [47]

Short-term cellular responses Edit

Brief overview of some signaling pathways (based on receptor families) that result in short-acting cellular responses
Receptor Family Example of Ligands/ activators (Bracket: receptor for it) Example of effectors Further downstream effects
Ligand Gated Ion Channels Acetylcholine
(Such as Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor),
Changes in membrane permeability Change in membrane potential
Seven Helix Receptor Light(Rhodopsin),
Dopamine (Dopamine receptor),
GABA (GABA receptor),
Prostaglandin (prostaglandin receptor) etc.
Trimeric G protein Adenylate Cyclase,
cGMP phosphodiesterase,
G-protein gated ion channel, etc.
Two Component Diverse activators Histidine Kinase Response Regulator - flagellar movement, Gene expression
Membrane Guanylyl Cyclase Atrial natriuretic peptide,
Sea urching egg peptide etc.
cGMP Regulation of Kinases and channels- Diverse actions
Cytoplasmic Guanylyl cyclase Nitric Oxide(Nitric oxide receptor) cGMP Regulation of cGMP Gated channels, Kinases
Integrins Fibronectins, other extracellular matrix proteins Nonreceptor tyrosine kinase Diverse response

Regulating gene activity Edit

Brief overview of some signaling pathways (based on receptor families) that control gene activity
Frizzled (Special type of 7Helix receptor) Wnt Dishevelled, axin - APC, GSK3-beta - Beta catenin Gene expression
Two Component Diverse activators Histidine Kinase Response Regulator - flagellar movement, Gene expression
Receptor Tyrosine Kinase Insulin (insulin receptor),
EGF (EGF receptor),
FGF-Alpha, FGF-Beta, etc (FGF-receptors)
Ras, MAP-kinases, PLC, PI3-Kinase Gene expression change
Cytokine receptors Erythropoietin,
Growth Hormone (Growth Hormone Receptor),
IFN-Gamma (IFN-Gamma receptor) etc
JAK kinase STAT transcription factor - Gene expression
Tyrosine kinase Linked- receptors MHC-peptide complex - TCR, Antigens - BCR Cytoplasmic Tyrosine Kinase Gene expression
Receptor Serine/Threonine Kinase Activin(activin receptor),
Inhibin,
Bone-morphogenetic protein(BMP Receptor),
TGF-beta
Smad transcription factors Control of gene expression
Sphingomyelinase linked receptors IL-1(IL-1 receptor),
TNF (TNF-receptors)
Ceramide activated kinases Gene expression
Cytoplasmic Steroid receptors Steroid hormones,
Thyroid hormones,
Retinoic acid etc
Work as/ interact with transcription factors Gene expression

Notch signaling pathway Edit

Notch is a cell surface protein that functions as a receptor. Animals have a small set of genes that code for signaling proteins that interact specifically with Notch receptors and stimulate a response in cells that express Notch on their surface. Molecules that activate (or, in some cases, inhibit) receptors can be classified as hormones, neurotransmitters, cytokines, and growth factors, in general called receptor ligands. Ligand receptor interactions such as that of the Notch receptor interaction, are known to be the main interactions responsible for cell signaling mechanisms and communication. [52] notch acts as a receptor for ligands that are expressed on adjacent cells. While some receptors are cell-surface proteins, others are found inside cells. For example, estrogen is a hydrophobic molecule that can pass through the lipid bilayer of the membranes. As part of the endocrine system, intracellular estrogen receptors from a variety of cell types can be activated by estrogen produced in the ovaries.

In the case of Notch-mediated signaling, the signal transduction mechanism can be relatively simple. As shown in Figure 2, the activation of Notch can cause the Notch protein to be altered by a protease. Part of the Notch protein is released from the cell surface membrane and takes part in gene regulation. Cell signaling research involves studying the spatial and temporal dynamics of both receptors and the components of signaling pathways that are activated by receptors in various cell types. [53] [54] Emerging methods for single-cell mass-spectrometry analysis promise to enable studying signal transduction with single-cell resolution. [55]

In notch signaling, direct contact between cells allows for precise control of cell differentiation during embryonic development. In the worm Caenorhabditis elegans, two cells of the developing gonad each have an equal chance of terminally differentiating or becoming a uterine precursor cell that continues to divide. The choice of which cell continues to divide is controlled by competition of cell surface signals. One cell will happen to produce more of a cell surface protein that activates the Notch receptor on the adjacent cell. This activates a feedback loop or system that reduces Notch expression in the cell that will differentiate and that increases Notch on the surface of the cell that continues as a stem cell. [56]


Chloroplast signaling within, between and beyond cells

The most conspicuous function of plastids is the oxygenic photosynthesis of chloroplasts, yet plastids are super-factories that produce a plethora of compounds that are indispensable for proper plant physiology and development. Given their origins as free-living prokaryotes, it is not surprising that plastids possess their own genomes whose expression is essential to plastid function. This semi-autonomous character of plastids requires the existence of sophisticated regulatory mechanisms that provide reliable communication between them and other cellular compartments. Such intracellular signaling is necessary for coordinating whole-cell responses to constantly varying environmental cues and cellular metabolic needs. This is achieved by plastids acting as receivers and transmitters of specific signals that coordinate expression of the nuclear and plastid genomes according to particular needs. In this review we will consider the so-called retrograde signaling occurring between plastids and nuclei, and between plastids and other organelles. Another important role of the plastid we will discuss is the involvement of plastid signaling in biotic and abiotic stress that, in addition to influencing retrograde signaling, has direct effects on several cellular compartments including the cell wall. We will also review recent evidence pointing to an intriguing function of chloroplasts in regulating intercellular symplasmic transport. Finally, we consider an intriguing yet less widely known aspect of plant biology, chloroplast signaling from the perspective of the entire plant. Thus, accumulating evidence highlights that chloroplasts, with their complex signaling pathways, provide a mechanism for exquisite regulation of plant development, metabolism and responses to the environment. As chloroplast processes are targeted for engineering for improved productivity the effect of such modifications on chloroplast signaling will have to be carefully considered in order to avoid unintended consequences on plant growth and development.

Keywords: cell wall phytohormones plasmodesmata plastid signaling redox retrograde signaling stress responses stromules.


Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå Plant Science Centre, Umeå University, S-901 87 Umeå, Sweden

Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå Plant Science Centre, Umeå University, S-901 87 Umeå, Sweden

Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå Plant Science Centre, Umeå University, S-901 87 Umeå, Sweden

Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå Plant Science Centre, Umeå University, S-901 87 Umeå, Sweden

Professor of Plant Cell Biology

Center for Plant Cell Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA, USA

Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA

Summary

Emission of organellar signals

Targets of retrograde communication


It is an inevitable consequence of life that cells interact with their local environment. Cells need to respond to cues from their interactions, be they physical interactions with neighboring cells or chemical interactions with the environment. MCB faculty take a wide variety of approaches to understand the broad scope of cell signaling and adaption.

Autumn

CONJ 532 Signal Transduction: from the cell membrane to the nucleus

CONJ 531 Signaling Mechanisms in Excitable Cells

Genome 559 Introduction to Statistical and Computational Genomics

MCB 536 Tools for Computational Biology

Winter

CONJ 544 Protein Structure, Modification and Regulation

Spring

BSTR 590 Cryo-electron microscopy of biological macromolecules and complexes

MCB 539 Biological Basis of Neoplasia

PABIO 536 Bioinformatics and Gene Sequence Analysis

MCB 543 Logic Constructs and Methodologies of Biological Research

Dr. Hannele Ruohola-Baker works with students to understand the cellular signals for development


Bridging the gap: Membrane contact sites in signaling, metabolism, and organelle dynamics

Regions of close apposition between two organelles, often referred to as membrane contact sites (MCSs), mostly form between the endoplasmic reticulum and a second organelle, although contacts between mitochondria and other organelles have also begun to be characterized. Although these contact sites have been noted since cells first began to be visualized with electron microscopy, the functions of most of these domains long remained unclear. The last few years have witnessed a dramatic increase in our understanding of MCSs, revealing the critical roles they play in intracellular signaling, metabolism, the trafficking of metabolites, and organelle inheritance, division, and transport.

Introduction

The compartmentalization of cells allows the segregation and regulation of the myriad reactions that occur within them. The tremendous benefits of intracellular compartmentalization also come at a price to function optimally, cells must transmit signals and exchange material between compartments. Numerous mechanisms have evolved to facilitate these exchanges. One that has not been well appreciated until the last few years is the transmission of signals and molecules between organelles that occurs at regions where the organelles are closely apposed, often called membrane contact sites (MCSs). These sites were first characterized because of their critical roles in the intracellular exchange of lipids and calcium, which can be directly channeled between organelles via MCSs. More recently, it has also become apparent that MCSs are important sites for intracellular signaling, organelle trafficking, and inheritance, and that MCSs are specialized regions where regulatory complexes are assembled (English and Voeltz, 2013 Helle et al., 2013).

A hallmark of MCSs is that membranes from two organelles (or compartments of the same organelle) are tethered to one another, but not all instances in which membranes interact with or are tethered to one another are considered MCSs. True MCSs have four properties: (1) membranes from two intracellular compartments are tethered in close apposition, typically within 30 nm, (2) the membranes do not fuse (though they may transiently hemi-fuse), (3) specific proteins and/or lipids are enriched at the MCS, and (4) MCS formation affects the function or composition of at least one of the two organelles in the MCS.

This review will discuss what we know about proteins that tether organelles, the exchange of small molecules at MCSs, and other emerging functions of MCSs.

MCS tethers

An MCS tether is a protein or complex of proteins (Fig. 1) that simultaneously binds the two apposing membranes at an organelle contact site and plays a role in maintaining the site (English and Voeltz, 2013 Helle et al., 2013). In many cases it is not yet clear if these proteins and complexes are genuine tethers, which are necessary to maintain MCSs, or function at MCSs but are not necessary to sustain contacts. Distinguishing between these possibilities is an important challenge for the field, especially when more than one protein or complex of proteins independently hold together the membranes at an MCS.

As a growing number of potential tethers are identified, three trends are emerging. First, most MCSs are maintained by several tethers. One of the best-characterized examples of this is the junction of the ER and plasma membrane (PM) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Recent work showed that it was necessary to eliminate six ER resident proteins to dramatically reduce the normally extensive interactions between the ER and PM (Manford et al., 2012 Stefan et al., 2013). This suggests that these six proteins mediate tethering independently of each other. Four of the six proteins (three calcium and lipid-binding domain proteins 1–3, also called Tcb1–3, and Ist2) are integral ER membrane proteins that have cytosolic domains that bind the plasma membranes (Fischer et al., 2009 Toulmay and Prinz, 2012). The other two proteins, Scs2 and Scs22 (Scs, suppressor of Ca 2+ sensitivity), are homologues of mammalian VAPs (vesicle-associated membrane protein–associated proteins). VAPs are integral membrane tail-anchored proteins in the ER that bind proteins containing FFAT (phenylalanines in an acid tract) motifs (Loewen et al., 2003). A number of proteins that contain these motifs also have domains that bind lipids and proteins in the PM, allowing them to simultaneously bind and tether the ER and PM. For example, some oxysterol-binding protein (OSBP)–related proteins (ORPs) have FFAT motifs and pleckstrin homology (PH) domains that bind phosphoinositides (PIPs) in the plasma membrane (Levine and Munro, 1998 Weber-Boyvat et al., 2013). Thus, ORPs and other FFAT motif-containing proteins can mediate ER–PM tethering via VAPs. It should be noted that VAPs and proteins bound by VAPs also mediate tethering between the ER and organelles in addition to the PM. These are shown in Fig. 1.

A second emerging trend is that tethering seems to be a dynamic, regulated process, and we are beginning to understand the mechanisms of dynamic apposition of membranes at MCSs by tethers. One example is ER–PM tethering mediated by proteins called extended synaptotagmins (E-Syts), which are homologues of the yeast Tcb tethers. The tethering of the ER and PM by E-Syts is regulated by Ca 2+ and the PM-enriched lipid PI(4,5)P2 (Chang et al., 2013 Giordano et al., 2013). Binding of these molecules by E-Syts may control both the extent of ER–PM contact and the distance between these organelles at MCSs. A second example of regulated MCS formation is provided by a recent study on OSBP. This protein and other FFAT motif-containing proteins have been thought to mediate ER–Golgi tethering by simultaneously binding VAPs in the ER and PIPs in the Golgi complex (Kawano et al., 2006 Peretti et al., 2008). In an elegant set of experiments, Mesmin et al. (2013) showed that OSBP regulates its own ability to mediate ER–Golgi tethering by modulating PI4P levels in the Golgi complex. When PI4P levels in the Golgi complex are high, OSBP tethers the ER and Golgi complex and also transports PI4P from the Golgi to the ER. When the PI4P reaches the ER, it is hydrolyzed by the phosphatase Sac1, preventing it from being transferred back to the Golgi. The reduction in Golgi complex PI4P levels by OSBP causes OSBP to dissociate from the Golgi, decreasing ER–Golgi tethering. Thus, OSBP negatively regulates its own tethering of the ER and Golgi membranes. Lipid transport by OSBP and similar proteins will be discussed in more detail in the section on lipid transport at MCSs.

The third important feature of many MCS tethering complexes is that most have functions in addition to tethering. This is well illustrated by complexes proposed to mediate ER–mitochondria tethering in mammalian cells, where four such complexes have been described (Fig. 1). For example, Mfn2 (mitofusin-2) acts as a tether (de Brito and Scorrano, 2008), but the primary function of this dynamin-like protein is to mediate mitochondrial fusion. Although Mfn2 is largely in the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM), a small fraction also resides the ER, and it has been proposed that the interaction of Mfn2 in the ER with Mfn2 in the OMM tethers the ER and mitochondria (de Brito and Scorrano, 2008). The other ER–mitochondria tethering complexes proposed in mammals (Fig. 1) also have additional functions—either Ca 2+ signaling or apoptotic signaling between these organelles.

Tethers within organelles

MCSs may form not only between organelles but also between compartments of the same organelle. In two cases, proteins necessary for these intra-organelle contacts are known. The Golgi complex is divided into a number of cisternae that remain closely apposed in some cell types, forming stacked compartments. Two tethering proteins maintain connections between Golgi cisternae. Golgi reassembly stacking protein 65 (GRASP65) forms contacts between cis- and medial-Golgi cisternae and GRASP55 mediates medial- to trans-cisternal interactions (Fig. 1 Barr et al., 1997 Shorter et al., 1999). The Golgi stack disassembles when both GRASPs are depleted, indicating that they are the primary or sole tethers (Xiang and Wang, 2010). Tethering by these proteins is regulated by kinases to allow Golgi cisternal disassembly during the cell cycle. Whether the inter-Golgi contacts formed by GRASPs mediate signaling or lipid exchange between cisternae is not yet known (Tang and Wang, 2013).

MCSs also form inside organelles with internal membranes: mitochondria, chloroplasts, and multivesicular bodies. These MCSs may form between membranes within these organelles or between internal membranes and the outer membrane of the organelle. Recently, three groups discovered a tethering complex involved in forming contacts between mitochondrial cisternae and between cisternae and the mitochondrial outer membrane (Harner et al., 2011 Hoppins et al., 2011 von der Malsburg et al., 2011). This complex, called the mitochondrial contact site and cristae organizing system (MICOS), is conserved from yeast to humans and contains at least six proteins (Fig. 1). It is necessary to maintain inner membrane organization and also interacts with protein complexes in the outer membrane, including the translocase of the outer membrane (TOM) complex and the sorting and assembly machinery (SAM) complex (van der Laan et al., 2012 Zerbes et al., 2012).

Lipid exchange at MCSs

Lipid exchange between organelles at MCSs may serve a number of important functions. One is that it allows cells to rapidly modulate the lipid composition of an organelle independently of vesicular trafficking. In addition, some organelles, such as mitochondria and chloroplasts, must obtain most of the lipids they require for membrane biogenesis by nonvesicular lipid trafficking that almost certainly occurs at MCSs (Osman et al., 2011 Wang and Benning, 2012 Horvath and Daum, 2013). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, lipid transfer at MCSs may play an important role in lipid metabolism by channeling lipids to or away from enzymes in different compartments.

Some lipid exchange at MCSs is facilitated by soluble lipid transport proteins (LTPs), which can shuttle lipid monomers between membranes (Fig. 2 A). In other cases, known LTPs do not seem to be required and lipids may be exchanged at MCSs by other mechanisms (Fig. 2, B and C), which will be discussed next.

Most LTPs fall into at least five superfamilies that differ structurally but that all have a hydrophobic pocket or groove that can bind a lipid monomer, and often have a lid domain that shields the bound lipid from the aqueous phase (D’Angelo et al., 2008 Lev, 2010). This allows LTPs to shuttle lipid monomers between membranes. LTPs probably transfer lipids between organelles in cells most efficiently at MCSs, where they have only a short distance to diffuse between membranes. LTPs that may transfer lipids at contact sites are: OSBP, ceramide transport protein (CERT), the yeast OSBP homologues Osh6 and Osh7, protein tyrosine kinase 2 N-terminal domain–interacting receptor 2 (Nir2), and Ups1 (Hanada, 2010 Connerth et al., 2012 Chang et al., 2013 Maeda et al., 2013 Mesmin et al., 2013).

LTPs could function by shuttling between membranes at MCSs or while simultaneously bound to both membranes (Fig. 2 A). Many LTPs have domains that target them to the two membranes at an MCS. For example, OSBP and CERT have FFAT motifs, which bind ER resident VAPs, and PH domains that bind PIPs in the Golgi complex or PM.

Another important emerging aspect of lipid exchange by some LTPs is that it may be driven by their ability to exchange one lipid for another. For example, OSBP can transfer both cholesterol and PI4P. At ER–Golgi MCSs, OSBP may facilitate the net movement of cholesterol from the ER to the Golgi and PI4P in the opposite direction (Mesmin et al., 2013). The difference in the PI4P concentrations in the ER and Golgi (lower in the ER than in the Golgi) may drive the net transfer of cholesterol to the Golgi. The ability to exchange one lipid for another has been found for other LTPs (Schaaf et al., 2008 de Saint-Jean et al., 2011 Kono et al., 2013) and may be critical for driving directional lipid exchange at MCSs.

Some lipid exchange at MCSs does not seem to be facilitated by LTPs. The best evidence for this comes from studies on lipid transfer between the ER and mitochondria. It has long been known that lipids are exchanged between these two organelles mitochondria must acquire most of the lipid it requires for membrane biogenesis from the rest of the cell. Lipid exchange at ER–mitochondria MCSs occurs by a mechanism that does not require energy, at least in vitro, and does not require any cytosolic factors (Osman et al., 2011 Vance, 2014).

How this lipid transfer occurs is not known, and two possible types of mechanism are shown in Fig. 2, B and C. One is that some MCS proteins form a hydrophobic channel that allows lipids to move between membranes. Such a channel would be similar to an LTP, but whereas lipids enter and exit LTPs by the same opening, they enter and exit channels by different openings. This difference could allow lipid exchange by a channel to be regulated and, if the channel could bind two different lipids simultaneously, it might couple the transfer of the lipids. A domain that may form channels at MCSs has been identified. Called the synaptotagmin-like mitochondrial lipid-binding protein (SMP) domain, it has been predicted to be part of a superfamily of proteins that includes cholesterol ester transfer protein (CETP Kopec et al., 2010). CETP has a tubular lipid-binding domain that transfers lipids between high-density and low-density lipoproteins, probably while simultaneously bound to both (Qiu et al., 2007 Zhang et al., 2012). SMP domains could transfer lipids between membranes by a similar mechanism. Consistent with this possibility, all SMP-containing proteins in budding yeast localize to MCSs and many mammalian SMP-containing proteins do as well (Toulmay and Prinz, 2012). Interestingly, SMP domains are present in three of the five proteins in a yeast ER–mitochondria tethering complex called ERMES (Kornmann et al., 2009). Whether ERMES facilitates lipid exchange between the ER and mitochondria is not yet clear. Mitochondria derived from cells missing ERMES have altered lipid composition (Osman et al., 2009 Tamura et al., 2012 Tan et al., 2013), indicating that lipid exchange between the ER and mitochondria could be altered in these strains. On the other hand, little or no defect in the rates of phospholipid exchange between ER and mitochondria were found in ERMES mutants (Kornmann et al., 2009 Nguyen et al., 2012 Voss et al., 2012). Thus, whether proteins that contain SMP domains actually facilitate lipid exchange remains to be determined.

As second possible mechanism of lipid transfer at MCSs that does not require LTPs is membrane hemifusion (Fig. 2 C), which could allow rapid exchange of large amounts of lipids between compartments. Recent indirect evidence suggests that hemifusion may occur between the ER and chloroplasts (Mehrshahi et al., 2013). This is consistent with an earlier study using optical tweezers that found the ER and chloroplasts remained attached to one another even when a stretching force of 400 pN was applied (Andersson et al., 2007). Whether hemifusion occurs at MCSs in animal cells remains to be determined.

Calcium signaling at MCSs

MCSs between the ER and PM and the ER and mitochondria play central roles in intracellular Ca 2+ storage, homeostasis, and signaling in mammalian cells. MCSs between the ER and lysosomes may also be important, though they are less well understood (Helle et al., 2013 Lam and Galione, 2013).

One of the best-characterized MCSs is the one formed between the PM and ER in muscle cells. In both cardiac and skeletal muscle cells, deep invaginations of the PM, called T (transverse)-tubules, allow it to form extensive contacts with the ER, called the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) in muscle cells. These contacts are essential for coupling excitation and contraction. Before excitation, Ca 2+ levels in the cytoplasm of muscle cells are low, whereas the Ca 2+ concentrations in the SR and outside muscle cells are high. During muscle excitation, Ca 2+ rapidly flows into the cytosol through channels in the PM and the SR (Fig. 3 A). The channels in the PM, called dihydropyridine receptors (DHPRs), and those in the SR, known ryanodine receptors RyRs, directly interact with each other where the SR and PM are closely apposed, allowing the opening of both types of channels to be coordinated (Fabiato, 1983 Bannister, 2007 Beam and Bannister, 2010 Rebbeck et al., 2011).

The extensive contacts between the SR and PM in muscle cells are largely maintained by tethering proteins called junctophilins, which have a single transmembrane domain in the SR and a large cytosolic domain that interacts with the PM. Expression of junctophilins in cells lacking them induces ER–PM contacts (Takeshima et al., 2000) and cells lacking junctophilins have abnormal SR–PM MCSs and defects in Ca 2+ signaling (Ito et al., 2001 Komazaki et al., 2002 Hirata et al., 2006). Thus, junctophilins are both necessary and sufficient for generating functional SR–PM contacts. However, cells lacking junctophilins still maintain some SR–PM contacts, indicating that other proteins also tether the SR and the PM. Some of this residual tethering probably comes from the interaction of DHPRs and RyRs.

ER–PM contacts also play a role in regulating intracellular Ca 2+ levels in non-excitable cells. When the Ca 2+ concentration in the ER lumen is low it triggers Ca 2+ entry into the cytosol and ER from outside cells (Fig. 3 B), a process known as store-operated Ca 2+ entry (SOCE). The PM channel responsible for Ca 2+ entry is Orai1, and the sensor of Ca 2+ concentration in the ER lumen is the integral membrane protein stromal interaction molecule-1 (STIM1). When STIM1 senses that the Ca 2+ concentration in the ER is low, it oligomerizes and undergoes a conformational change that exposes a basic cluster of amino acids in its C terminus that binds PIPs in the PM (Stathopulos et al., 2006, 2008 Liou et al., 2007 Muik et al., 2011). STIM1 also binds to Orai1 in the PM and activates it (Kawasaki et al., 2009 Muik et al., 2009 Park et al., 2009 Wang et al., 2009). Activation of STIM1 causes it to shift from being relatively evenly distributed on the ER to forming a number of puncta, which are regions were the ER and PM are closely apposed. It seems likely that STIM1 accumulates at and expands preexisting ER–PM MCSs and may also drive the formation of new MCSs (Wu et al., 2006 Lur et al., 2009 Orci et al., 2009).

The interaction of STIM1 and Orai1 at ER–PM contacts during SOCE is an elegant mechanism for channeling both signals and small molecules at an MCS. The signal that ER luminal Ca 2+ concentration is low is transmitted directly from STIM1 in the ER to Orai1 in the PM. The close contact of PM and ER also allows Ca 2+ to move from outside the cell into the lumen of the ER without significantly increasing cytosolic Ca 2+ levels (Jousset et al., 2007). During SOCE, ER Ca 2+ levels are restored by the sarco/endoplasmic reticulum Ca 2+ -ATPase (SERCA) pump (Sampieri et al., 2009 Manjarrés et al., 2011). This pump is enriched in ER–PM contacts with STIM1 and may interact directly with it, suggesting how Ca 2+ can be effectively channeled from outside cells directly into the ER lumen at ER–PM MCSs (Fig. 3 B).

Interestingly, it has become clear that proteins that are not part of the SOCE pathway also facilitate ER–PM connections during Ca 2+ signaling. The E-Syts have multiple domains that probably bind Ca 2+ . They have been shown to regulate both the number of the ER–PM contacts and the distance between the ER and PM at MCSs during Ca 2+ signaling (Chang et al., 2013 Giordano et al., 2013).

MCSs between the ER and mitochondria similarly facilitate Ca 2+ movement from the ER lumen to mitochondria (Rizzuto et al., 1998 Csordás et al., 2006). Ca 2+ channels in the ER and OMM interact with each other at MCSs (Fig. 3 C). The channel in the ER is called the inositol trisphosphate receptor (IP3R), while the voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC) in the outer mitochondrial membrane is a nonspecific pore that allows Ca 2+ entry into mitochondria. These proteins, together with the cytosolic chaperone Grp75, form a complex that links the ER and mitochondria and facilitates Ca 2+ exchange (Szabadkai et al., 2006).

More evidence that Ca 2+ transfer from the ER to mitochondria occurs at MCSs came from studies on the channel that allows Ca 2+ to move across the inner mitochondrial membrane, called the mitochondrial Ca 2+ uniporter (MCU). Surprisingly, this channel has an affinity for Ca 2+ that is lower than the typical Ca 2+ concentration in the cytosol (Kirichok et al., 2004). However, Ca 2+ release by the ER at ER–mitochondrial MCSs suggests a solution to this puzzle the local Ca 2+ concentration at these MCSs is probably high enough for MCU to function (Csordás et al., 2010). Close contacts between the ER and mitochondria are therefore essential for channeling Ca 2+ from the ER lumen to the mitochondrial matrix.

It is thought that MCSs between the ER (or SR) and lysosomes regulate Ca 2+ release by lysosomes, but the mechanism is not yet understood (Kinnear et al., 2004, 2008 Galione et al., 2011 Morgan et al., 2011).

Enzymes working in trans and signaling at MCSs

MCSs allow rapid and efficient signaling between intracellular compartments. We are still just beginning to understand the mechanisms and functions of this signaling. One way that signals are transmitted between the two compartments at an MCS is for an enzyme in one compartment to modify substrates in the second that is, for the enzyme to work in trans. Although there are currently only a few examples of this, which are discussed here, it seems likely that many more will be uncovered.

The protein tyrosine phosphatase PTP1B regulates a number of receptor tyrosine kinases. PTP1B resides on the surface of the ER with its active site in the cytosol, and yet the receptor tyrosine kinases it modifies are in the PM. Although this was initially puzzling, it was found that PTP1B probably encounters its substrates at MCSs, either at ER–PM junctions or at contacts between the ER and endocytic recycling compartments (Haj et al., 2002 Boute et al., 2003 Anderie et al., 2007 Eden et al., 2010 Nievergall et al., 2010). Interestingly, in some cases the interaction of PTP1B with substrates in the PM occurs on portions of the PM that are part of cell–cell contacts (Haj et al., 2012), suggesting that ER–PM contacts could play a role in signaling, not only between the ER and PM but between cells as well. Dephosphorylation of receptor tyrosine kinases by PTP1B at contact sites probably allows their kinase activity to be regulated in response to changes in the ER or changes in cellular architecture that alter MCSs. For example, the dephosphorylation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) by PTP1B occurs at regions of close contact between the ER and multivesicular bodies, causing EGFR to become sequestered with multivesicular bodies (Eden et al., 2010). This may provide a mechanism for cells to regulate EGFR levels on the PM in response to signals in the ER.

Lipid metabolism enzymes can also work in trans at MCSs. In two cases, both in yeast, enzymes that reside in the ER have been found to modify lipids in the PM at MCSs. In one instance, the phosphatase Sac1, which is on the surface of the ER, can dephosphorylate PIPs in the PM (Stefan et al., 2011). In the second, the ER enzyme Opi3 methylates phosphatidylethanolamine in the PM, a reaction that is required for the conversion of phosphatidylethanolamine to phosphatidylcholine (Tavassoli et al., 2013). Remarkably, the PIP-binding protein Osh3 (Tong et al., 2013) regulates both reactions, suggesting that lipid metabolism at ER–PM junctions is regulated by PIPs. It seems likely that ER–PM junctions play important roles in integrating lipid metabolism in both organelles.

MCSs and organelle trafficking and inheritance

In addition to being sites at which signals and small molecules are exchanged between cellular compartments, there is growing evidence that MCS formation also regulates organelle trafficking and inheritance.

In budding yeast, organelle transport is polarized from the mother cell to the growing bud and is required for proper organelle inheritance. The transport of peroxisomes and mitochondria to the bud is regulated by their association with the ER or PM.

Knoblach et al. (2013) found that tethering of the ER to peroxisomes requires Pex3, an integral membrane protein that resides in both compartments, and Inp1, a cytosolic protein that binds to Pex3. This tether keeps peroxisomes in mother cells. When peroxisomes divide they are transferred to the bud by the myosin V motor Myo2 and become attached to the ER in the bud. In cells lacking the ER–peroxisome tether, peroxisomes accumulate in daughter cells. Thus, tethering plays a critical role in ensuring that some peroxisomes are retained in mother cells and that both cells inherit peroxisomes.

Mitochondrial inheritance in yeast is regulated by close contacts with both the ER and PM. Mitochondria–PM contacts mediated by a complex containing Num1 and Mdm36 ensure that mitochondria are properly distributed between mother and daughter cells and seem to be particularly important for retaining mitochondria in the mother cells (Klecker et al., 2013 Lackner et al., 2013). Interestingly, Num1–Mdm36-mediated contacts also associate with the ER (Lackner et al., 2013), suggesting that three membranes may somehow associate at these MCSs. An ER–mitochondria tether containing the protein Mmr1, which anchors mitochondria to bud tips, also plays a role in mitochondrial inheritance (Swayne et al., 2011). Thus, the Num1-tethering complex and Mmr1-tethering complex seem to play antagonistic roles in mitochondrial distribution the Num1 complex promotes mitochondrial retention in the mother, whereas the Mmr1 complex favors retention in the bud.

MCSs also play a role in endosomal trafficking in mammalian cells. One of the complexes that tethers the ER to endosomes contains VAPs and ORP1L, which is an OSBP homologue that can bind cholesterol (Fig. 1). ORPlL can also binds the p150 Glued subunit of the dynein–dynactin motor that participates in endosome transport along microtubules (Johansson et al., 2007). When cellular cholesterol levels are high, ORP1L associates with p150 Glued but not VAPs and endosomes are transported on microtubules. However, when cholesterol levels decrease, ORP1L undergoes a conformation change that dissociates it from p150 Glued and allows it to bind to VAPs on the surface of the ER, thus forming a tether between endosomes and the ER (Rocha et al., 2009). Under these conditions, endosome transport on microtubules is blocked. ORPlL is therefore a cholesterol sensor that regulates a switch between the association of endosomes with either motors or the ER.

MCSs and organelle division

A groundbreaking study revealed a new and unexpected role for MCSs between the ER and mitochondria: the ER regulates mitochondrial fission (Friedman et al., 2011). Although a mechanistic understanding of how ER participates in mitochondrial fission is not yet available, the sequence of events is beginning to come into focus (Fig. 4). The ER encircles mitochondria at sites where scission will occur. The ERMES complex is present at these sites (Murley et al., 2013). Because mammalian cells lack ERMES, another tethering complex must perform the same function in higher eukaryotes. Mitochondrial division requires membrane scission by the dynamin-like protein Dnm1/Drp1, which multimerizes on the outer mitochondria membrane. Close contacts between the ER and mitochondria occur before Dnm1/Drp1 assembly, suggesting that these contacts promote or regulate the association of Dnm1/Drp1 with mitochondria and hence mitochondrial division. It is possible that when the ER encircles mitochondria it causes mitochondria to constrict to a diameter that allows Dnm1/Drp1 to assemble. The force necessary to drive constriction may come from actin polymerization. A recent study found that the ER protein, inverted formin-2, probably drives actin polymerization at these sites and is necessary for mitochondria fusion (Korobova et al., 2013).

Understanding the assembly and regulation of the mitochondrial division machinery at ER–mitochondria MCSs and how this is linked to mitochondrial and perhaps ER function remain fascinating questions for the future. Another interesting question is whether other MCSs play roles in the fission of other organelles.

Proposed functions of ER–mitochondrial MCSs

A growing number of studies have suggested that ER–mitochondria MCSs play critical roles in autophagy, apoptosis, inflammation, reactive oxygen species signaling, and metabolic signaling. ER–mitochondria MCSs have also been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and some viral infections. These topics have been recently reviewed (Eisner et al., 2013 Raturi and Simmen, 2013 Marchi et al., 2014 Vance, 2014) and will not be discussed in detail here.

One issue with most of the studies on the functions of ER–mitochondria junctions is that they rely, at least in part, on density gradient purification of the ER that associates with mitochondria. These operationally defined membranes, often called mitochondrial-associated membranes (MAMs), remain poorly defined. In fact, a significant number of proteins that are enriched in MAMs do not seem to be enriched at ER–mitochondria junctions when their localization is determined by other methods (Helle et al., 2013 Vance, 2014). Therefore, it remains unclear why some proteins and lipids are enriched in MAMs.

Here, two interesting findings will be discussed that suggest the importance of ER–mitochondrial junctions in signaling in addition to their well-known role in Ca 2+ signalling.

The induction of apoptosis requires signal transmission between the ER and mitochondria. Part of this signaling process occurs through an interaction between the ER protein Bap31 and the mitochondrial fission protein Fission 1 homologue (Fis1 Iwasawa et al., 2011). This interaction occurs at ER–mitochondria MCSs and results in the cleavage of Bap31 by caspase-8 to form p20Bap31, which is pro-apoptotic. Both Bap31 and Fis1 are parts of larger complexes that are still being characterized. Interestingly, it has recently been found that a protein called cell death–involved p53 target-1 (CDIP1) binds to Bap31 during ER stress and promotes apoptotic signaling from the ER to mitochondria (Namba et al., 2013), suggesting how ER stress signals are transmitted from the ER to mitochondria through MCSs.

Another important connection between ER–mitochondrial MCSs and signaling has to do with the target of rapamycin (TOR) kinase complexes, which are critical regulators of growth and metabolism. The mammalian TOR complex 2 (mTORC2) was found to interact with the IP3R–Grp75–VDAC complex that tethers the ER and mitochondria (Betz et al., 2013). Remarkably, this study presents evidence that mTORC regulates both the formation of ER–mitochondrial MCSs and mitochondrial function, suggesting an interesting new mechanism for how metabolic signaling can impact mitochondrial function via MCSs.

Conclusions and perspectives

The potential of MCSs to facilitate Ca 2+ signaling and channel lipids between organelles was recognized some time ago (Levine and Loewen, 2006), but it has only been in the last few years that we have finally begun to have some mechanistic insight into how these processes occur and how MCSs are formed. Many fundamental questions remain to be addressed. How lipid exchange at MCSs that does not require soluble LTPs occurs or whether transient hemifusion of membranes at MCS ever occurs remain open questions. Another is the mechanisms by which Ca 2+ regulates MCS formation between the ER and other organelles. One major challenge for the field will be devising better methods to visualize MCSs and identify proteins and lipids enriched at these sites. It is particularly important to better understand what the MAM fraction is and what it means for proteins and lipids to be enriched in this fraction.

One of the most exciting developments in the study of MCSs in the last few years has been the discovery of the role of MCSs in organelle trafficking, inheritance, and dynamics. These studies have revealed that MCSs not only play critical roles in signaling and metabolism, but also modulate the intracellular distribution of organelles and organelle architecture. Understanding how MCSs perform these functions will probably shed light on the connection between the still murky relationship between organelle structure and function as well as the role of the ER as a regulator of other organelles. Given the current pace of discovery, it seems likely that in the next few years our knowledge of the functions of MCSs will grow dramatically.


Bridging the gap: Membrane contact sites in signaling, metabolism, and organelle dynamics

Regions of close apposition between two organelles, often referred to as membrane contact sites (MCSs), mostly form between the endoplasmic reticulum and a second organelle, although contacts between mitochondria and other organelles have also begun to be characterized. Although these contact sites have been noted since cells first began to be visualized with electron microscopy, the functions of most of these domains long remained unclear. The last few years have witnessed a dramatic increase in our understanding of MCSs, revealing the critical roles they play in intracellular signaling, metabolism, the trafficking of metabolites, and organelle inheritance, division, and transport.

Introduction

The compartmentalization of cells allows the segregation and regulation of the myriad reactions that occur within them. The tremendous benefits of intracellular compartmentalization also come at a price to function optimally, cells must transmit signals and exchange material between compartments. Numerous mechanisms have evolved to facilitate these exchanges. One that has not been well appreciated until the last few years is the transmission of signals and molecules between organelles that occurs at regions where the organelles are closely apposed, often called membrane contact sites (MCSs). These sites were first characterized because of their critical roles in the intracellular exchange of lipids and calcium, which can be directly channeled between organelles via MCSs. More recently, it has also become apparent that MCSs are important sites for intracellular signaling, organelle trafficking, and inheritance, and that MCSs are specialized regions where regulatory complexes are assembled (English and Voeltz, 2013 Helle et al., 2013).

A hallmark of MCSs is that membranes from two organelles (or compartments of the same organelle) are tethered to one another, but not all instances in which membranes interact with or are tethered to one another are considered MCSs. True MCSs have four properties: (1) membranes from two intracellular compartments are tethered in close apposition, typically within 30 nm, (2) the membranes do not fuse (though they may transiently hemi-fuse), (3) specific proteins and/or lipids are enriched at the MCS, and (4) MCS formation affects the function or composition of at least one of the two organelles in the MCS.

This review will discuss what we know about proteins that tether organelles, the exchange of small molecules at MCSs, and other emerging functions of MCSs.

MCS tethers

An MCS tether is a protein or complex of proteins (Fig. 1) that simultaneously binds the two apposing membranes at an organelle contact site and plays a role in maintaining the site (English and Voeltz, 2013 Helle et al., 2013). In many cases it is not yet clear if these proteins and complexes are genuine tethers, which are necessary to maintain MCSs, or function at MCSs but are not necessary to sustain contacts. Distinguishing between these possibilities is an important challenge for the field, especially when more than one protein or complex of proteins independently hold together the membranes at an MCS.

As a growing number of potential tethers are identified, three trends are emerging. First, most MCSs are maintained by several tethers. One of the best-characterized examples of this is the junction of the ER and plasma membrane (PM) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Recent work showed that it was necessary to eliminate six ER resident proteins to dramatically reduce the normally extensive interactions between the ER and PM (Manford et al., 2012 Stefan et al., 2013). This suggests that these six proteins mediate tethering independently of each other. Four of the six proteins (three calcium and lipid-binding domain proteins 1–3, also called Tcb1–3, and Ist2) are integral ER membrane proteins that have cytosolic domains that bind the plasma membranes (Fischer et al., 2009 Toulmay and Prinz, 2012). The other two proteins, Scs2 and Scs22 (Scs, suppressor of Ca 2+ sensitivity), are homologues of mammalian VAPs (vesicle-associated membrane protein–associated proteins). VAPs are integral membrane tail-anchored proteins in the ER that bind proteins containing FFAT (phenylalanines in an acid tract) motifs (Loewen et al., 2003). A number of proteins that contain these motifs also have domains that bind lipids and proteins in the PM, allowing them to simultaneously bind and tether the ER and PM. For example, some oxysterol-binding protein (OSBP)–related proteins (ORPs) have FFAT motifs and pleckstrin homology (PH) domains that bind phosphoinositides (PIPs) in the plasma membrane (Levine and Munro, 1998 Weber-Boyvat et al., 2013). Thus, ORPs and other FFAT motif-containing proteins can mediate ER–PM tethering via VAPs. It should be noted that VAPs and proteins bound by VAPs also mediate tethering between the ER and organelles in addition to the PM. These are shown in Fig. 1.

A second emerging trend is that tethering seems to be a dynamic, regulated process, and we are beginning to understand the mechanisms of dynamic apposition of membranes at MCSs by tethers. One example is ER–PM tethering mediated by proteins called extended synaptotagmins (E-Syts), which are homologues of the yeast Tcb tethers. The tethering of the ER and PM by E-Syts is regulated by Ca 2+ and the PM-enriched lipid PI(4,5)P2 (Chang et al., 2013 Giordano et al., 2013). Binding of these molecules by E-Syts may control both the extent of ER–PM contact and the distance between these organelles at MCSs. A second example of regulated MCS formation is provided by a recent study on OSBP. This protein and other FFAT motif-containing proteins have been thought to mediate ER–Golgi tethering by simultaneously binding VAPs in the ER and PIPs in the Golgi complex (Kawano et al., 2006 Peretti et al., 2008). In an elegant set of experiments, Mesmin et al. (2013) showed that OSBP regulates its own ability to mediate ER–Golgi tethering by modulating PI4P levels in the Golgi complex. When PI4P levels in the Golgi complex are high, OSBP tethers the ER and Golgi complex and also transports PI4P from the Golgi to the ER. When the PI4P reaches the ER, it is hydrolyzed by the phosphatase Sac1, preventing it from being transferred back to the Golgi. The reduction in Golgi complex PI4P levels by OSBP causes OSBP to dissociate from the Golgi, decreasing ER–Golgi tethering. Thus, OSBP negatively regulates its own tethering of the ER and Golgi membranes. Lipid transport by OSBP and similar proteins will be discussed in more detail in the section on lipid transport at MCSs.

The third important feature of many MCS tethering complexes is that most have functions in addition to tethering. This is well illustrated by complexes proposed to mediate ER–mitochondria tethering in mammalian cells, where four such complexes have been described (Fig. 1). For example, Mfn2 (mitofusin-2) acts as a tether (de Brito and Scorrano, 2008), but the primary function of this dynamin-like protein is to mediate mitochondrial fusion. Although Mfn2 is largely in the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM), a small fraction also resides the ER, and it has been proposed that the interaction of Mfn2 in the ER with Mfn2 in the OMM tethers the ER and mitochondria (de Brito and Scorrano, 2008). The other ER–mitochondria tethering complexes proposed in mammals (Fig. 1) also have additional functions—either Ca 2+ signaling or apoptotic signaling between these organelles.

Tethers within organelles

MCSs may form not only between organelles but also between compartments of the same organelle. In two cases, proteins necessary for these intra-organelle contacts are known. The Golgi complex is divided into a number of cisternae that remain closely apposed in some cell types, forming stacked compartments. Two tethering proteins maintain connections between Golgi cisternae. Golgi reassembly stacking protein 65 (GRASP65) forms contacts between cis- and medial-Golgi cisternae and GRASP55 mediates medial- to trans-cisternal interactions (Fig. 1 Barr et al., 1997 Shorter et al., 1999). The Golgi stack disassembles when both GRASPs are depleted, indicating that they are the primary or sole tethers (Xiang and Wang, 2010). Tethering by these proteins is regulated by kinases to allow Golgi cisternal disassembly during the cell cycle. Whether the inter-Golgi contacts formed by GRASPs mediate signaling or lipid exchange between cisternae is not yet known (Tang and Wang, 2013).

MCSs also form inside organelles with internal membranes: mitochondria, chloroplasts, and multivesicular bodies. These MCSs may form between membranes within these organelles or between internal membranes and the outer membrane of the organelle. Recently, three groups discovered a tethering complex involved in forming contacts between mitochondrial cisternae and between cisternae and the mitochondrial outer membrane (Harner et al., 2011 Hoppins et al., 2011 von der Malsburg et al., 2011). This complex, called the mitochondrial contact site and cristae organizing system (MICOS), is conserved from yeast to humans and contains at least six proteins (Fig. 1). It is necessary to maintain inner membrane organization and also interacts with protein complexes in the outer membrane, including the translocase of the outer membrane (TOM) complex and the sorting and assembly machinery (SAM) complex (van der Laan et al., 2012 Zerbes et al., 2012).

Lipid exchange at MCSs

Lipid exchange between organelles at MCSs may serve a number of important functions. One is that it allows cells to rapidly modulate the lipid composition of an organelle independently of vesicular trafficking. In addition, some organelles, such as mitochondria and chloroplasts, must obtain most of the lipids they require for membrane biogenesis by nonvesicular lipid trafficking that almost certainly occurs at MCSs (Osman et al., 2011 Wang and Benning, 2012 Horvath and Daum, 2013). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, lipid transfer at MCSs may play an important role in lipid metabolism by channeling lipids to or away from enzymes in different compartments.

Some lipid exchange at MCSs is facilitated by soluble lipid transport proteins (LTPs), which can shuttle lipid monomers between membranes (Fig. 2 A). In other cases, known LTPs do not seem to be required and lipids may be exchanged at MCSs by other mechanisms (Fig. 2, B and C), which will be discussed next.

Most LTPs fall into at least five superfamilies that differ structurally but that all have a hydrophobic pocket or groove that can bind a lipid monomer, and often have a lid domain that shields the bound lipid from the aqueous phase (D’Angelo et al., 2008 Lev, 2010). This allows LTPs to shuttle lipid monomers between membranes. LTPs probably transfer lipids between organelles in cells most efficiently at MCSs, where they have only a short distance to diffuse between membranes. LTPs that may transfer lipids at contact sites are: OSBP, ceramide transport protein (CERT), the yeast OSBP homologues Osh6 and Osh7, protein tyrosine kinase 2 N-terminal domain–interacting receptor 2 (Nir2), and Ups1 (Hanada, 2010 Connerth et al., 2012 Chang et al., 2013 Maeda et al., 2013 Mesmin et al., 2013).

LTPs could function by shuttling between membranes at MCSs or while simultaneously bound to both membranes (Fig. 2 A). Many LTPs have domains that target them to the two membranes at an MCS. For example, OSBP and CERT have FFAT motifs, which bind ER resident VAPs, and PH domains that bind PIPs in the Golgi complex or PM.

Another important emerging aspect of lipid exchange by some LTPs is that it may be driven by their ability to exchange one lipid for another. For example, OSBP can transfer both cholesterol and PI4P. At ER–Golgi MCSs, OSBP may facilitate the net movement of cholesterol from the ER to the Golgi and PI4P in the opposite direction (Mesmin et al., 2013). The difference in the PI4P concentrations in the ER and Golgi (lower in the ER than in the Golgi) may drive the net transfer of cholesterol to the Golgi. The ability to exchange one lipid for another has been found for other LTPs (Schaaf et al., 2008 de Saint-Jean et al., 2011 Kono et al., 2013) and may be critical for driving directional lipid exchange at MCSs.

Some lipid exchange at MCSs does not seem to be facilitated by LTPs. The best evidence for this comes from studies on lipid transfer between the ER and mitochondria. It has long been known that lipids are exchanged between these two organelles mitochondria must acquire most of the lipid it requires for membrane biogenesis from the rest of the cell. Lipid exchange at ER–mitochondria MCSs occurs by a mechanism that does not require energy, at least in vitro, and does not require any cytosolic factors (Osman et al., 2011 Vance, 2014).

How this lipid transfer occurs is not known, and two possible types of mechanism are shown in Fig. 2, B and C. One is that some MCS proteins form a hydrophobic channel that allows lipids to move between membranes. Such a channel would be similar to an LTP, but whereas lipids enter and exit LTPs by the same opening, they enter and exit channels by different openings. This difference could allow lipid exchange by a channel to be regulated and, if the channel could bind two different lipids simultaneously, it might couple the transfer of the lipids. A domain that may form channels at MCSs has been identified. Called the synaptotagmin-like mitochondrial lipid-binding protein (SMP) domain, it has been predicted to be part of a superfamily of proteins that includes cholesterol ester transfer protein (CETP Kopec et al., 2010). CETP has a tubular lipid-binding domain that transfers lipids between high-density and low-density lipoproteins, probably while simultaneously bound to both (Qiu et al., 2007 Zhang et al., 2012). SMP domains could transfer lipids between membranes by a similar mechanism. Consistent with this possibility, all SMP-containing proteins in budding yeast localize to MCSs and many mammalian SMP-containing proteins do as well (Toulmay and Prinz, 2012). Interestingly, SMP domains are present in three of the five proteins in a yeast ER–mitochondria tethering complex called ERMES (Kornmann et al., 2009). Whether ERMES facilitates lipid exchange between the ER and mitochondria is not yet clear. Mitochondria derived from cells missing ERMES have altered lipid composition (Osman et al., 2009 Tamura et al., 2012 Tan et al., 2013), indicating that lipid exchange between the ER and mitochondria could be altered in these strains. On the other hand, little or no defect in the rates of phospholipid exchange between ER and mitochondria were found in ERMES mutants (Kornmann et al., 2009 Nguyen et al., 2012 Voss et al., 2012). Thus, whether proteins that contain SMP domains actually facilitate lipid exchange remains to be determined.

As second possible mechanism of lipid transfer at MCSs that does not require LTPs is membrane hemifusion (Fig. 2 C), which could allow rapid exchange of large amounts of lipids between compartments. Recent indirect evidence suggests that hemifusion may occur between the ER and chloroplasts (Mehrshahi et al., 2013). This is consistent with an earlier study using optical tweezers that found the ER and chloroplasts remained attached to one another even when a stretching force of 400 pN was applied (Andersson et al., 2007). Whether hemifusion occurs at MCSs in animal cells remains to be determined.

Calcium signaling at MCSs

MCSs between the ER and PM and the ER and mitochondria play central roles in intracellular Ca 2+ storage, homeostasis, and signaling in mammalian cells. MCSs between the ER and lysosomes may also be important, though they are less well understood (Helle et al., 2013 Lam and Galione, 2013).

One of the best-characterized MCSs is the one formed between the PM and ER in muscle cells. In both cardiac and skeletal muscle cells, deep invaginations of the PM, called T (transverse)-tubules, allow it to form extensive contacts with the ER, called the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) in muscle cells. These contacts are essential for coupling excitation and contraction. Before excitation, Ca 2+ levels in the cytoplasm of muscle cells are low, whereas the Ca 2+ concentrations in the SR and outside muscle cells are high. During muscle excitation, Ca 2+ rapidly flows into the cytosol through channels in the PM and the SR (Fig. 3 A). The channels in the PM, called dihydropyridine receptors (DHPRs), and those in the SR, known ryanodine receptors RyRs, directly interact with each other where the SR and PM are closely apposed, allowing the opening of both types of channels to be coordinated (Fabiato, 1983 Bannister, 2007 Beam and Bannister, 2010 Rebbeck et al., 2011).

The extensive contacts between the SR and PM in muscle cells are largely maintained by tethering proteins called junctophilins, which have a single transmembrane domain in the SR and a large cytosolic domain that interacts with the PM. Expression of junctophilins in cells lacking them induces ER–PM contacts (Takeshima et al., 2000) and cells lacking junctophilins have abnormal SR–PM MCSs and defects in Ca 2+ signaling (Ito et al., 2001 Komazaki et al., 2002 Hirata et al., 2006). Thus, junctophilins are both necessary and sufficient for generating functional SR–PM contacts. However, cells lacking junctophilins still maintain some SR–PM contacts, indicating that other proteins also tether the SR and the PM. Some of this residual tethering probably comes from the interaction of DHPRs and RyRs.

ER–PM contacts also play a role in regulating intracellular Ca 2+ levels in non-excitable cells. When the Ca 2+ concentration in the ER lumen is low it triggers Ca 2+ entry into the cytosol and ER from outside cells (Fig. 3 B), a process known as store-operated Ca 2+ entry (SOCE). The PM channel responsible for Ca 2+ entry is Orai1, and the sensor of Ca 2+ concentration in the ER lumen is the integral membrane protein stromal interaction molecule-1 (STIM1). When STIM1 senses that the Ca 2+ concentration in the ER is low, it oligomerizes and undergoes a conformational change that exposes a basic cluster of amino acids in its C terminus that binds PIPs in the PM (Stathopulos et al., 2006, 2008 Liou et al., 2007 Muik et al., 2011). STIM1 also binds to Orai1 in the PM and activates it (Kawasaki et al., 2009 Muik et al., 2009 Park et al., 2009 Wang et al., 2009). Activation of STIM1 causes it to shift from being relatively evenly distributed on the ER to forming a number of puncta, which are regions were the ER and PM are closely apposed. It seems likely that STIM1 accumulates at and expands preexisting ER–PM MCSs and may also drive the formation of new MCSs (Wu et al., 2006 Lur et al., 2009 Orci et al., 2009).

The interaction of STIM1 and Orai1 at ER–PM contacts during SOCE is an elegant mechanism for channeling both signals and small molecules at an MCS. The signal that ER luminal Ca 2+ concentration is low is transmitted directly from STIM1 in the ER to Orai1 in the PM. The close contact of PM and ER also allows Ca 2+ to move from outside the cell into the lumen of the ER without significantly increasing cytosolic Ca 2+ levels (Jousset et al., 2007). During SOCE, ER Ca 2+ levels are restored by the sarco/endoplasmic reticulum Ca 2+ -ATPase (SERCA) pump (Sampieri et al., 2009 Manjarrés et al., 2011). This pump is enriched in ER–PM contacts with STIM1 and may interact directly with it, suggesting how Ca 2+ can be effectively channeled from outside cells directly into the ER lumen at ER–PM MCSs (Fig. 3 B).

Interestingly, it has become clear that proteins that are not part of the SOCE pathway also facilitate ER–PM connections during Ca 2+ signaling. The E-Syts have multiple domains that probably bind Ca 2+ . They have been shown to regulate both the number of the ER–PM contacts and the distance between the ER and PM at MCSs during Ca 2+ signaling (Chang et al., 2013 Giordano et al., 2013).

MCSs between the ER and mitochondria similarly facilitate Ca 2+ movement from the ER lumen to mitochondria (Rizzuto et al., 1998 Csordás et al., 2006). Ca 2+ channels in the ER and OMM interact with each other at MCSs (Fig. 3 C). The channel in the ER is called the inositol trisphosphate receptor (IP3R), while the voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC) in the outer mitochondrial membrane is a nonspecific pore that allows Ca 2+ entry into mitochondria. These proteins, together with the cytosolic chaperone Grp75, form a complex that links the ER and mitochondria and facilitates Ca 2+ exchange (Szabadkai et al., 2006).

More evidence that Ca 2+ transfer from the ER to mitochondria occurs at MCSs came from studies on the channel that allows Ca 2+ to move across the inner mitochondrial membrane, called the mitochondrial Ca 2+ uniporter (MCU). Surprisingly, this channel has an affinity for Ca 2+ that is lower than the typical Ca 2+ concentration in the cytosol (Kirichok et al., 2004). However, Ca 2+ release by the ER at ER–mitochondrial MCSs suggests a solution to this puzzle the local Ca 2+ concentration at these MCSs is probably high enough for MCU to function (Csordás et al., 2010). Close contacts between the ER and mitochondria are therefore essential for channeling Ca 2+ from the ER lumen to the mitochondrial matrix.

It is thought that MCSs between the ER (or SR) and lysosomes regulate Ca 2+ release by lysosomes, but the mechanism is not yet understood (Kinnear et al., 2004, 2008 Galione et al., 2011 Morgan et al., 2011).

Enzymes working in trans and signaling at MCSs

MCSs allow rapid and efficient signaling between intracellular compartments. We are still just beginning to understand the mechanisms and functions of this signaling. One way that signals are transmitted between the two compartments at an MCS is for an enzyme in one compartment to modify substrates in the second that is, for the enzyme to work in trans. Although there are currently only a few examples of this, which are discussed here, it seems likely that many more will be uncovered.

The protein tyrosine phosphatase PTP1B regulates a number of receptor tyrosine kinases. PTP1B resides on the surface of the ER with its active site in the cytosol, and yet the receptor tyrosine kinases it modifies are in the PM. Although this was initially puzzling, it was found that PTP1B probably encounters its substrates at MCSs, either at ER–PM junctions or at contacts between the ER and endocytic recycling compartments (Haj et al., 2002 Boute et al., 2003 Anderie et al., 2007 Eden et al., 2010 Nievergall et al., 2010). Interestingly, in some cases the interaction of PTP1B with substrates in the PM occurs on portions of the PM that are part of cell–cell contacts (Haj et al., 2012), suggesting that ER–PM contacts could play a role in signaling, not only between the ER and PM but between cells as well. Dephosphorylation of receptor tyrosine kinases by PTP1B at contact sites probably allows their kinase activity to be regulated in response to changes in the ER or changes in cellular architecture that alter MCSs. For example, the dephosphorylation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) by PTP1B occurs at regions of close contact between the ER and multivesicular bodies, causing EGFR to become sequestered with multivesicular bodies (Eden et al., 2010). This may provide a mechanism for cells to regulate EGFR levels on the PM in response to signals in the ER.

Lipid metabolism enzymes can also work in trans at MCSs. In two cases, both in yeast, enzymes that reside in the ER have been found to modify lipids in the PM at MCSs. In one instance, the phosphatase Sac1, which is on the surface of the ER, can dephosphorylate PIPs in the PM (Stefan et al., 2011). In the second, the ER enzyme Opi3 methylates phosphatidylethanolamine in the PM, a reaction that is required for the conversion of phosphatidylethanolamine to phosphatidylcholine (Tavassoli et al., 2013). Remarkably, the PIP-binding protein Osh3 (Tong et al., 2013) regulates both reactions, suggesting that lipid metabolism at ER–PM junctions is regulated by PIPs. It seems likely that ER–PM junctions play important roles in integrating lipid metabolism in both organelles.

MCSs and organelle trafficking and inheritance

In addition to being sites at which signals and small molecules are exchanged between cellular compartments, there is growing evidence that MCS formation also regulates organelle trafficking and inheritance.

In budding yeast, organelle transport is polarized from the mother cell to the growing bud and is required for proper organelle inheritance. The transport of peroxisomes and mitochondria to the bud is regulated by their association with the ER or PM.

Knoblach et al. (2013) found that tethering of the ER to peroxisomes requires Pex3, an integral membrane protein that resides in both compartments, and Inp1, a cytosolic protein that binds to Pex3. This tether keeps peroxisomes in mother cells. When peroxisomes divide they are transferred to the bud by the myosin V motor Myo2 and become attached to the ER in the bud. In cells lacking the ER–peroxisome tether, peroxisomes accumulate in daughter cells. Thus, tethering plays a critical role in ensuring that some peroxisomes are retained in mother cells and that both cells inherit peroxisomes.

Mitochondrial inheritance in yeast is regulated by close contacts with both the ER and PM. Mitochondria–PM contacts mediated by a complex containing Num1 and Mdm36 ensure that mitochondria are properly distributed between mother and daughter cells and seem to be particularly important for retaining mitochondria in the mother cells (Klecker et al., 2013 Lackner et al., 2013). Interestingly, Num1–Mdm36-mediated contacts also associate with the ER (Lackner et al., 2013), suggesting that three membranes may somehow associate at these MCSs. An ER–mitochondria tether containing the protein Mmr1, which anchors mitochondria to bud tips, also plays a role in mitochondrial inheritance (Swayne et al., 2011). Thus, the Num1-tethering complex and Mmr1-tethering complex seem to play antagonistic roles in mitochondrial distribution the Num1 complex promotes mitochondrial retention in the mother, whereas the Mmr1 complex favors retention in the bud.

MCSs also play a role in endosomal trafficking in mammalian cells. One of the complexes that tethers the ER to endosomes contains VAPs and ORP1L, which is an OSBP homologue that can bind cholesterol (Fig. 1). ORPlL can also binds the p150 Glued subunit of the dynein–dynactin motor that participates in endosome transport along microtubules (Johansson et al., 2007). When cellular cholesterol levels are high, ORP1L associates with p150 Glued but not VAPs and endosomes are transported on microtubules. However, when cholesterol levels decrease, ORP1L undergoes a conformation change that dissociates it from p150 Glued and allows it to bind to VAPs on the surface of the ER, thus forming a tether between endosomes and the ER (Rocha et al., 2009). Under these conditions, endosome transport on microtubules is blocked. ORPlL is therefore a cholesterol sensor that regulates a switch between the association of endosomes with either motors or the ER.

MCSs and organelle division

A groundbreaking study revealed a new and unexpected role for MCSs between the ER and mitochondria: the ER regulates mitochondrial fission (Friedman et al., 2011). Although a mechanistic understanding of how ER participates in mitochondrial fission is not yet available, the sequence of events is beginning to come into focus (Fig. 4). The ER encircles mitochondria at sites where scission will occur. The ERMES complex is present at these sites (Murley et al., 2013). Because mammalian cells lack ERMES, another tethering complex must perform the same function in higher eukaryotes. Mitochondrial division requires membrane scission by the dynamin-like protein Dnm1/Drp1, which multimerizes on the outer mitochondria membrane. Close contacts between the ER and mitochondria occur before Dnm1/Drp1 assembly, suggesting that these contacts promote or regulate the association of Dnm1/Drp1 with mitochondria and hence mitochondrial division. It is possible that when the ER encircles mitochondria it causes mitochondria to constrict to a diameter that allows Dnm1/Drp1 to assemble. The force necessary to drive constriction may come from actin polymerization. A recent study found that the ER protein, inverted formin-2, probably drives actin polymerization at these sites and is necessary for mitochondria fusion (Korobova et al., 2013).

Understanding the assembly and regulation of the mitochondrial division machinery at ER–mitochondria MCSs and how this is linked to mitochondrial and perhaps ER function remain fascinating questions for the future. Another interesting question is whether other MCSs play roles in the fission of other organelles.

Proposed functions of ER–mitochondrial MCSs

A growing number of studies have suggested that ER–mitochondria MCSs play critical roles in autophagy, apoptosis, inflammation, reactive oxygen species signaling, and metabolic signaling. ER–mitochondria MCSs have also been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and some viral infections. These topics have been recently reviewed (Eisner et al., 2013 Raturi and Simmen, 2013 Marchi et al., 2014 Vance, 2014) and will not be discussed in detail here.

One issue with most of the studies on the functions of ER–mitochondria junctions is that they rely, at least in part, on density gradient purification of the ER that associates with mitochondria. These operationally defined membranes, often called mitochondrial-associated membranes (MAMs), remain poorly defined. In fact, a significant number of proteins that are enriched in MAMs do not seem to be enriched at ER–mitochondria junctions when their localization is determined by other methods (Helle et al., 2013 Vance, 2014). Therefore, it remains unclear why some proteins and lipids are enriched in MAMs.

Here, two interesting findings will be discussed that suggest the importance of ER–mitochondrial junctions in signaling in addition to their well-known role in Ca 2+ signalling.

The induction of apoptosis requires signal transmission between the ER and mitochondria. Part of this signaling process occurs through an interaction between the ER protein Bap31 and the mitochondrial fission protein Fission 1 homologue (Fis1 Iwasawa et al., 2011). This interaction occurs at ER–mitochondria MCSs and results in the cleavage of Bap31 by caspase-8 to form p20Bap31, which is pro-apoptotic. Both Bap31 and Fis1 are parts of larger complexes that are still being characterized. Interestingly, it has recently been found that a protein called cell death–involved p53 target-1 (CDIP1) binds to Bap31 during ER stress and promotes apoptotic signaling from the ER to mitochondria (Namba et al., 2013), suggesting how ER stress signals are transmitted from the ER to mitochondria through MCSs.

Another important connection between ER–mitochondrial MCSs and signaling has to do with the target of rapamycin (TOR) kinase complexes, which are critical regulators of growth and metabolism. The mammalian TOR complex 2 (mTORC2) was found to interact with the IP3R–Grp75–VDAC complex that tethers the ER and mitochondria (Betz et al., 2013). Remarkably, this study presents evidence that mTORC regulates both the formation of ER–mitochondrial MCSs and mitochondrial function, suggesting an interesting new mechanism for how metabolic signaling can impact mitochondrial function via MCSs.

Conclusions and perspectives

The potential of MCSs to facilitate Ca 2+ signaling and channel lipids between organelles was recognized some time ago (Levine and Loewen, 2006), but it has only been in the last few years that we have finally begun to have some mechanistic insight into how these processes occur and how MCSs are formed. Many fundamental questions remain to be addressed. How lipid exchange at MCSs that does not require soluble LTPs occurs or whether transient hemifusion of membranes at MCS ever occurs remain open questions. Another is the mechanisms by which Ca 2+ regulates MCS formation between the ER and other organelles. One major challenge for the field will be devising better methods to visualize MCSs and identify proteins and lipids enriched at these sites. It is particularly important to better understand what the MAM fraction is and what it means for proteins and lipids to be enriched in this fraction.

One of the most exciting developments in the study of MCSs in the last few years has been the discovery of the role of MCSs in organelle trafficking, inheritance, and dynamics. These studies have revealed that MCSs not only play critical roles in signaling and metabolism, but also modulate the intracellular distribution of organelles and organelle architecture. Understanding how MCSs perform these functions will probably shed light on the connection between the still murky relationship between organelle structure and function as well as the role of the ER as a regulator of other organelles. Given the current pace of discovery, it seems likely that in the next few years our knowledge of the functions of MCSs will grow dramatically.


Signaling in Bacteria

Bacterial signaling allows bacteria to monitor cellular conditions and communicate with each other.

Learning Objectives

Describe how cell signaling occurs in single-celled organisms such as bacteria

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Gene expression in bacteria is initiated when the population density of the bacteria reaches a certain level.
  • Bacterial signaling is called quorum sensing because cell density is the determining factor for signaling.
  • Quorum sensing uses autoinducers, which are secreted by bacteria to communicate with other bacteria of the same kind, as signaling molecules.
  • Autoinducers may be small, hydrophobic molecules, or they can be larger peptide-based molecules regardless, each type of molecule has a different mode of action.
  • Some bacteria form biofilms, which are complex colonies of bacteria that exchange chemical signals to coordinate the release of toxins that attack the host.

Key Terms

  • quorum sensing: a method of communication between bacterial cells by the release and sensing of small diffusible signal molecules
  • autoinducer: any of several compounds, synthesized by bacteria, that have signalling functions in quorum sensing
  • biofilm: a thin film of mucus created by and containing a colony of bacteria and other microorganisms

Signaling in Bacteria

Signaling in bacteria, known as quorum sensing, enables bacteria to monitor extracellular conditions, ensure sufficient amounts of nutrients are present, and avoid hazardous situations. There are circumstances, however, when bacteria communicate with each other.

The first evidence of bacterial communication was observed in a bacterium that has a symbiotic relationship with Hawaiian bobtail squid. When the population density of the bacteria reached a certain level, specific gene expression was initiated: the bacteria produced bioluminescent proteins that emitted light. Because the number of cells present in the environment (the cell density) is the determining factor for signaling, bacterial signaling was named quorum sensing. Interestingly, in politics and business, a quorum is the minimum number of members required to be present to vote on an issue.

Quorum sensing uses autoinducers as signaling molecules. Autoinducers are signaling molecules secreted by bacteria to communicate with other bacteria of the same kind. The secreted autoinducers can be small, hydrophobic molecules, such as acyl-homoserine lactone (AHL), or larger peptide-based molecules. Each type of molecule has a different mode of action. When AHL enters target bacteria, it binds to transcription factors, which then switch gene expression on or off. The peptide autoinducers stimulate more complicated signaling pathways that include bacterial kinases. The changes in bacteria following exposure to autoinducers can be quite extensive. The pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa has 616 different genes that respond to autoinducers.

Autoinducers: Autoinducers are small molecules or proteins produced by bacteria that regulate gene expression.

Some species of bacteria that use quorum sensing form biofilms, which are complex colonies of bacteria (often containing several species) that exchange chemical signals to coordinate the release of toxins that attack the host. Bacterial biofilms can sometimes be found on medical equipment. When biofilms invade implants, such as hip or knee replacements or heart pacemakers, they can cause life-threatening infections.

Bacterial Biofilms: Cell-cell communication enables these (a) Staphylococcus aureus bacteria to work together to form a biofilm inside a hospital patient’s catheter, seen here via scanning electron microscopy. S. aureus is the main cause of hospital-acquired infections. (b) Hawaiian bobtail squid have a symbiotic relationship with the bioluminescent bacteria Vibrio fischeri. The luminescence makes it difficult to see the squid from below because it effectively eliminates its shadow. In return for camouflage, the squid provides food for the bacteria. Free-living V. fischeri do not produce luciferase, the enzyme responsible for luminescence, but V. fischeri living in a symbiotic relationship with the squid do. Quorum sensing determines whether the bacteria should produce the luciferase enzyme.


Watch the video: Video om cellens organeller og væv 1 (September 2022).


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