In all eukaryotic cells, the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the mitochondria establish a tight interplay, which is structurally and functionally modulated through a proteinaceous tether formed at specific subdomains of the ER membrane, designated mitochondria-associated membranes or MAMs. The tethering function of the MAMs allows the regulation of lipid synthesis and rapid transmission of calcium (Ca(2+)) signals between the ER and mitochondria, which is crucial to shape intracellular Ca(2+) signaling and regulate mitochondrial bioenergetics. Research on the molecular characterization and function of MAMs has boomed in the last few years and the list of signaling and structural proteins dynamically associated with the ER-mitochondria contact sites in physiological and pathological conditions, is rapidly increasing along with the realization of an unprecedented complexity underlying the functional role of MAMs. Besides their established role as a signaling hub for Ca(2+) and lipid transfer between ER and mitochondria, MAMs have been recently shown to regulate mitochondrial shape and motility, energy metabolism and redox status and to be central to the modulation of various key processes like ER stress, autophagy and inflammasome signaling. In this review we will discuss some emerging cell-autonomous and cell non-autonomous roles of the MAMs in mammalian cells and their relevance for important human diseases. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Calcium signaling in health and disease. Guest Editors: Geert Bultynck, Jacques Haiech, Claus W. Heizmann, Joachim Krebs, and Marc Moreau.
Keywords: Cancer; ER stress signaling; Endoplasmic reticulum; Interorganellar signaling; Mitochondria associated membranes; Neurodegenerative disorders.
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