Phosphoinositides are membrane-bound signalling molecules that regulate cell proliferation and survival, cytoskeletal reorganization and vesicular trafficking by recruiting effector proteins to cellular membranes. Growth factor or insulin stimulation induces a canonical cascade resulting in the transient phosphorylation of PtdIns(4,5)P2 by PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase) to form PtdIns(3,4,5)P3, which is rapidly dephosphorylated either by PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homologue deleted on chromosome 10) back to PtdIns(4,5)P2, or by the 5-ptases (inositol polyphosphate 5-phosphatases), generating PtdIns(3,4)P2. The 5-ptases also hydrolyse PtdIns(4,5)P2, forming PtdIns4P. Ten mammalian 5-ptases have been identified, which share a catalytic mechanism similar to that of the apurinic/apyrimidinic endonucleases. Gene-targeted deletion of 5-ptases in mice has revealed that these enzymes regulate haemopoietic cell proliferation, synaptic vesicle recycling, insulin signalling, endocytosis, vesicular trafficking and actin polymerization. Several studies have revealed that the molecular basis of Lowe's syndrome is due to mutations in the 5-ptase OCRL (oculocerebrorenal syndrome of Lowe). Futhermore, the 5-ptases SHIP [SH2 (Src homology 2)-domain-containing inositol phosphatase] 2, SKIP (skeletal muscle- and kidney-enriched inositol phosphatase) and 72-5ptase (72 kDa 5-ptase)/Type IV/Inpp5e (inositol polyphosphate 5-phosphatase E) are implicated in negatively regulating insulin signalling and glucose homoeostasis in specific tissues. SHIP2 polymorphisms are associated with a predisposition to insulin resistance. Gene profiling studies have identified changes in the expression of various 5-ptases in specific cancers. In addition, 5-ptases such as SHIP1, SHIP2 and 72-5ptase/Type IV/Inpp5e regulate macrophage phagocytosis, and SHIP1 also controls haemopoietic cell proliferation. Therefore the 5-ptases are a significant family of signal-modulating enzymes that govern a plethora of cellular functions by regulating the levels of specific phosphoinositides. Emerging studies have implicated their loss or gain of function in human disease.

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