Phospholipid Synthesis and Transport in Mammalian Cells

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Membranes of mammalian subcellular organelles contain defined amounts of specific phospholipids that are required for normal functioning of proteins in the membrane. Despite the wide distribution of most phospholipid classes throughout organelle membranes, the site of synthesis of each phospholipid class is usually restricted to one organelle, commonly the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Thus, phospholipids must be transported from their sites of synthesis to the membranes of other organelles. In this article, pathways and subcellular sites of phospholipid synthesis in mammalian cells are summarized. A single, unifying mechanism does not explain the inter-organelle transport of all phospholipids. Thus, mechanisms of phospholipid transport between organelles of mammalian cells via spontaneous membrane diffusion, via cytosolic phospholipid transfer proteins, via vesicles and via membrane contact sites are discussed. As an example of the latter mechanism, phosphatidylserine (PS) is synthesized on a region of the ER (mitochondria-associated membranes, MAM) and decarboxylated to phosphatidylethanolamine in mitochondria. Some evidence is presented suggesting that PS import into mitochondria occurs via membrane contact sites between MAM and mitochondria. Recent studies suggest that protein complexes can form tethers that link two types of organelles thereby promoting lipid transfer. However, many questions remain about mechanisms of inter-organelle phospholipid transport in mammalian cells.

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