Endoplasmic reticulum-plasma membrane contact sites: Regulation of ER structure and cell growth

Lipids play important roles in all cells, separating the cell from the outside environment and serving to divide the cell into distinct compartments called organelles. In order to carry out their critical biological processes, organelles need to contact and communicate with each other. The disruption of these contacts can result in defective movement of lipids, and the accumulation of lipids is a factor in diseases such as atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and motorneuron diseases. The endoplasmic reticulum is an organelle that is made up of a network of membranes within cells, involved in the synthesis, modification, and transport of cellular materials. Communication of the endoplasmic reticulum with other organelles is especially important to the cell, because it is the site of many metabolic activities, including making lipids and proteins. Dr. Christopher Loewen is working to determine how the endoplasmic reticulum contacts and communicates with other cell compartments, particularly with regards to lipid synthesis. By studying these contacts, he hopes to shed light on both normal and dysfunctional communication, potentially uncovering new ways to fight lipid accumulation.