PtdIns is synthesized at the endoplasmic reticulum and its intracellular distribution to other organelles can be facilitated by lipid transfer proteins [PITPs (phosphatidylinositol transfer proteins)]. In this review, I summarize the current understanding of how PITPs are regulated by phosphorylation, how can they dock to membranes to exchange their lipid cargo and how cells use PITPs in signal transduction and membrane delivery. Mammalian PITPs, PITPα and PITPβ, are paralogous genes that are 94% similar in sequence. Their structural design demonstrates that they can sequester PtdIns or PtdCho (phosphatidylcholine) in their hydrophobic cavity. To deliver the lipid cargo to a membrane, PITP has to undergo a conformational change at the membrane interface. PITPs have a higher affinity for PtdIns than PtdCho, which is explained by hydrogen-bond contacts between the inositol ring of PtdIns and the side-chains of four amino acid residues, Thr59, Lys61, Glu86 and Asn90, in PITPs. Regardless of species, these residues are conserved in all known PITPs. PITP transfer activity is regulated by a conserved serine residue (Ser166) that is phosphorylated by protein kinase C. Ser166 is only accessible for phosphorylation when a conformational change occurs in PITPs while docking at the membrane interface during lipid transfer, thereby coupling regulation of activity with lipid transfer function. Biological roles of PITPs include their ability to couple phospholipase C signalling to neurite outgrowth, cell division and stem cell growth.

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Author notes

The Biochemical Society's Annual Symposium, The Cell Biology of Inositol Lipids and Phosphates, was held at the University of Birmingham on 29-31 March 2006.