Lipid droplets are the intracellular sites for neutral lipid storage. They are critical for lipid metabolism and energy homeostasis, and their dysfunction has been linked to many diseases. Accumulating evidence suggests that the roles lipid droplets play in biology are significantly broader than previously anticipated. Lipid droplets are the source of molecules important in the nucleus: they can sequester transcription factors and chromatin components and generate the lipid ligands for certain nuclear receptors. Lipid droplets have also emerged as important nodes for fatty acid trafficking, both inside the cell and between cells. In immunity, new roles for droplets, not directly linked to lipid metabolism, have been uncovered, with evidence that they act as assembly platforms for specific viruses and as reservoirs for proteins that fight intracellular pathogens. Until recently, knowledge about droplets in the nervous system has been minimal, but now there are multiple links between lipid droplets and neurodegeneration: many candidate genes for hereditary spastic paraplegia also have central roles in lipid-droplet formation and maintenance, and mitochondrial dysfunction in neurons can lead to transient accumulation of lipid droplets in neighboring glial cells, an event that may, in turn, contribute to neuronal damage. As the cell biology and biochemistry of lipid droplets become increasingly well understood, the next few years should yield many new mechanistic insights into these novel functions of lipid droplets.
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