Interaction of extracellular-signal molecules with cell-surface receptors often activates a phospholipase D (PLD)-mediated hydrolysis of phosphatidylcholine and other phospholipids, generating phosphatidic acid. The activation of PLD is believed to play an important role in the regulation of cell function and cell fate. Multiple PLD activities were characterized in eukaryotic cells, and, more recently, several PLD genes have been cloned. A PLD gene superfamily, defined by a number of structural domains and sequence motifs, also includes phosphatidyltransferases and certain phosphodiesterases. Among the eukaryotic PLD genes are those from mammals, nematodes, fungi and plants. The present review focuses on the structure, localization, regulation and possible functions of cloned mammalian and yeast PLDs. In addition, an overview of plant PLD genes, and of several distinct PLD activities that have not yet been cloned, is provided. Emerging evidence from recent work employing new molecular tools indicates that different PLD isoforms are localized in distinct cellular organelles, where they are likely to serve diverse functions in signal transduction, membrane vesicle trafficking and cytoskeletal dynamics.

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