The ER-mitochondria interface: the social network of cell death

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 Feb;1823(2):327-34. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2011.11.018. Epub 2011 Dec 13.


When cellular organelles communicate bad things can happen. Recent findings uncovered that the junction between the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the mitochondria holds a crucial role for cell death regulation. Not only does this locale connect the two best-known organelles in apoptosis, numerous regulators of cell death are concentrated at this spot, providing a terrain for intense signal transfers. Ca2+ is the most prominent signalling factor that is released from the ER and, at high concentration, mediates the transfer of an apoptosis signal to mitochondria as the executioner organelle for cell death. An elaborate array of checks and balances is fine-tuning this process including Bcl-2 family members. Moreover, MAMs, "mitochondria-associated membranes", are distinct membrane sections at the ER that are in close contact with mitochondria and have been found to exchange lipids and lipid-derived molecules such as ceramide for apoptosis induction. Recent work has also described a reverse transfer of apoptosis signals, from mitochondria to the ER, via cytochrome c release and prolonged IP3R opening or through the mitochondrial fission factor Fis1 and Bap31 at the ER, which form the ARCosome, a novel caspase-activation complex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Death / physiology*
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Cytoskeleton / ultrastructure
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / ultrastructure*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Calcium