The critical importance of controlling the size and number of intracellular organelles has led to a variety of mechanisms for regulating the formation and growth of cellular structures. In this review, we explore a class of mechanisms for organelle growth control that rely primarily on the cytoplasm as a 'limiting pool' of available material. These mechanisms are based on the idea that, as organelles grow, they incorporate subunits from the cytoplasm. If this subunit pool is limited, organelle growth will lead to depletion of subunits from the cytoplasm. Free subunit concentration therefore provides a measure of the number of incorporated subunits and thus the current size of the organelle. Because organelle growth rates are typically a function of subunit concentration, cytoplasmic depletion links organelle size, free subunit concentration, and growth rates, ensuring that as the organelle grows, its rate of growth slows. Thus, a limiting cytoplasmic pool provides a powerful mechanism for size-dependent regulation of growth without recourse to active mechanisms to measure size or modulate growth rates. Variations of this general idea allow not only for size control, but also cell-size-dependent scaling of cellular structures, coordination of growth between similar structures within a cell, and the enforcement of singularity in structure formation, when only a single copy of a structure is desired. Here, we review several examples of such mechanisms in cellular processes as diverse as centriole duplication, centrosome and nuclear size control, cell polarity, and growth of flagella.
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