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Phosphoinositides constitute only a small fraction of cellular phospholipids, yet their importance in the regulation of cellular functions can hardly be overstated. The rapid metabolic response of phosphoinositides after stimulation of certain cell surface receptors was the first indication that these lipids could serve as regulatory molecules. These early observations opened research areas that ultimately clarified the plasma membrane role of phosphoinositides in Ca2+ signaling. However, research of the last 10 years has revealed a much broader range of processes dependent on phosphoinositides. These lipids control organelle biology by regulating vesicular trafficking, and they modulate lipid distribution and metabolism more generally via their close relationship with lipid transfer proteins. Phosphoinositides also regulate ion channels, pumps, and transporters as well as both endocytic and exocytic processes. The significance of phosphoinositides found within the nucleus is still poorly understood, and a whole new research concerns the highly phosphorylated inositols that also appear to control multiple nuclear processes. The expansion of research and interest in phosphoinositides naturally created a demand for new approaches to determine where, within the cell, these lipids exert their effects. Imaging of phosphoinositide dynamics within live cells has become a standard cell biological method. These new tools not only helped us localize phosphoinositides within the cell but also taught us how tightly phosphoinositide control can be linked with distinct effector protein complexes. The recent progress allows us to understand the underlying causes of certain human diseases and design new strategies for therapeutic interventions.
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