Mitochondria-associated membranes (MAMs) as hotspot Ca(2+) signaling units

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2012;740:411-37. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-2888-2_17.


The tight interplay between endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and mitochondria is a key determinant of cell function and survival through the control of intracellular calcium (Ca(2+)) signaling. The specific sites of physical association between ER and mitochondria are known as mitochondria-associated membranes (MAMs). It has recently become clear that MAMs are crucial for highly efficient transmission of Ca(2+) from the ER to mitochondria, thus controlling fundamental processes involved in energy production and also determining cell fate by triggering or preventing apoptosis. In this contribution, we summarize the main features of the Ca(2+)-signaling toolkit, covering also the latest breakthroughs in the field, such as the identification of novel candidate proteins implicated in mitochondrial Ca(2+) transport and the recent direct characterization of the high-Ca(2+) microdomains between ER and mitochondria. We review the main functions of these two organelles, with special emphasis on Ca(2+) handling and on the structural and molecular foundations of the signaling contacts between them. Additionally, we provide important examples of the physiopathological role of this cross-talk, briefly describing the key role played by MAMs proteins in many diseases, and shedding light on the essential role of mitochondria-ER interactions in the maintenance of cellular homeostasis and the determination of cell fate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / physiology
  • Mitochondrial Membranes / metabolism*


  • Calcium