Recent data from the study of the cell biology of caveolae have provided insights both into how these flask-shaped invaginations of the plasma membrane are formed and how they may function in different contexts. This review discusses experiments that analyse the composition and ultrastructural distribution of protein complexes responsible for generating caveolae, that suggest functions for caveolae in response to mechanical stress or damage to the plasma membrane, that show that caveolae may have an important role during the signalling events for regulation of metabolism, and that imply that caveolae can act as endocytic vesicles at the plasma membrane. We also highlight unexpected roles for caveolar proteins in regulating circadian rhythms and new insights into the way in which caveolae may be involved in fatty acid uptake in the intestine. Current outstanding questions in the field are emphasised.
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