The big and intricate dreams of little organelles: Embracing complexity in the study of membrane traffic

Traffic. 2017 Sep;18(9):567-579. doi: 10.1111/tra.12497. Epub 2017 Jul 4.


Compartmentalization of eukaryotic cells into dynamic organelles that exchange material through regulated membrane traffic governs virtually every aspect of cellular physiology including signal transduction, metabolism and transcription. Much has been revealed about the molecular mechanisms that control organelle dynamics and membrane traffic and how these processes are regulated by metabolic, physical and chemical cues. From this emerges the understanding of the integration of specific organellar phenomena within complex, multiscale and nonlinear regulatory networks. In this review, we discuss systematic approaches that revealed remarkable insight into the complexity of these phenomena, including the use of proximity-based proteomics, high-throughput imaging, transcriptomics and computational modeling. We discuss how these methods offer insights to further understand molecular versatility and organelle heterogeneity, phenomena that allow a single organelle population to serve a range of physiological functions. We also detail on how transcriptional circuits drive organelle adaptation, such that organelles may shift their function to better serve distinct differentiation and stress conditions. Thus, organelle dynamics and membrane traffic are functionally heterogeneous and adaptable processes that coordinate with higher-order system behavior to optimize cell function under a range of contexts. Obtaining a comprehensive understanding of organellar phenomena will increasingly require combined use of reductionist and system-based approaches.

Keywords: adaptation; clathrin-mediated endocytosis; computational modeling; heterogeneity; lipids; lysosomes; phosphoinositides; signaling; systems biology; transcription.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Eukaryotic Cells / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Organelles / physiology*
  • Protein Transport / physiology*
  • Proteomics
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*