One mechanism by which communication between the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and mitochondria is achieved is by close juxtaposition between these organelles via mitochondria-associated membranes (MAM). The MAM consist of a region of the ER that is enriched in several lipid biosynthetic enzyme activities and becomes reversibly tethered to mitochondria. Specific proteins are localized, sometimes transiently, in the MAM. Several of these proteins have been implicated in tethering the MAM to mitochondria. In mammalian cells, formation of these contact sites between MAM and mitochondria appears to be required for key cellular events including the transport of calcium from the ER to mitochondria, the import of phosphatidylserine into mitochondria from the ER for decarboxylation to phosphatidylethanolamine, the formation of autophagosomes, regulation of the morphology, dynamics and functions of mitochondria, and cell survival. This review focuses on the functions proposed for MAM in mediating these events in mammalian cells. In light of the apparent involvement of MAM in multiple fundamental cellular processes, recent studies indicate that impaired contact between MAM and mitochondria might underlie the pathology of several human neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease. Moreover, MAM has been implicated in modulating glucose homeostasis and insulin resistance, as well as in some viral infections.
Keywords: Apoptosis; Autophagy; Endoplasmic reticulum; Lipid transport; Mitochondria; Neurodegeneration.
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