The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) forms a network of sheets and tubules that extends throughout the cell. Proteins required to maintain this complex structure include the reticulons, reticulon-like proteins, and dynamin-like GTPases called atlastins in mammals and Sey1p in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Yeast cells missing these proteins have abnormal ER structure, particularly defects in the formation of ER tubules, but grow about as well as wild-type cells. We screened for mutations that cause cells that have defects in maintaining ER tubules to grow poorly. Among the genes we found were members of the ER mitochondria encounter structure (ERMES) complex that tethers the ER and mitochondria. Close contacts between the ER and mitochondria are thought to be sites where lipids are moved from the ER to mitochondria, a process that is required for mitochondrial membrane biogenesis. We show that ER to mitochondria phospholipid transfer slows significantly in cells missing both ER-shaping proteins and the ERMES complex. These cells also have altered steady-state levels of phospholipids. We found that the defect in ER to mitochondria phospholipid transfer in a strain missing ER-shaping proteins and a component of the ERMES complex was corrected by expression of a protein that artificially tethers the ER and mitochondria. Our findings indicate that ER-shaping proteins play a role in maintaining functional contacts between the ER and mitochondria and suggest that the shape of the ER at ER-mitochondria contact sites affects lipid exchange between these organelles.
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