Mitochondria typically form a reticular network radiating from the nucleus, creating an interconnected system that supplies the cell with essential energy and metabolites. These mitochondrial networks are regulated through the complex coordination of fission, fusion and distribution events. While a number of key mitochondrial morphology proteins have been identified, the precise mechanisms which govern their activity remain elusive. Moreover, post translational modifications including ubiquitination, phosphorylation and sumoylation of the core machinery are thought to regulate both fusion and division of the network. These proteins can undergo several different modifications depending on cellular signals, environment and energetic demands of the cell. Proteins involved in mitochondrial morphology may also have dual roles in both dynamics and apoptosis, with regulation of these proteins under tight control of the cell to ensure correct function. The absolute reliance of the cell on a functional mitochondrial network is highlighted in neurons, which are particularly vulnerable to any changes in organelle dynamics due to their unique biochemical requirements. Recent evidence suggests that defects in the shape or distribution of mitochondria correlate with the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's disease. This review focuses on our current understanding of the mitochondrial morphology machinery in cell homeostasis, apoptosis and neurodegeneration, and the post translational modifications that regulate these processes. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.
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