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J Cell Sci. 2000 Nov;113 (Pt 21):3683-4.


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  • 1Dept Pharmacology, University of Cambridge, UK.


Biology of Phosphoinositides edited by Shamshad Cockroft Oxford University Press (2000) pp. 341. ISBN 0-19-963764-4 32.50 I can remember in the early days of the inositide explosion (around the mid-80s) we used to discuss over a few beers the idea of signing some kind of 'non-proliferation treaty' because the number of inositol phosphates seemed to be getting a little out of control. In the end we decided that because mathematically there were only 63 possibilities, it couldn't get much worse, so there wasn't any point in worrying. That turns out to have been a false security because there were only two polyphosphoinositol lipids then, and now there are seven - all the seven species feasible by phosphorylating the 3, 4 and 5 hydroxyls on phosphatidylinositol (PI) - and we also hadn't reckoned on the emerging complexities of the glycosyl-PIs, and of course the possibility that you could actually cram more than six phosphates on an inositol ring (as in the pyrophosphate-containing IP7 and IP8) would have been dismissed as absurd. Now, bemused as we are by the ever-increasing number of players, we face an even more awesome proliferation of functions. Phosphatidylinositol 4, 5-bisphosphate (PI45P2) is the chief offender here, as it seems to be cropping up in every remote corner of eukaryotic cells controlling a bewildering array of functions, but the 3-phosphorylated lipids are not much more well-behaved, and what all this means in the present context is that putting together a book on 'The Biology of Phosphoinositides' that can be contained in one volume has become impossible. There has to be a selection process, and Shamshad Cockcroft has done an admirable job in choosing the areas that are most topical, with a sufficiently broad sweep that almost anyone will find at least one of the chapters useful. But this very same expansion and proliferation makes equally difficult the choice of what to cover in a single chapter, and I found that the most successful chapters in this book are those which focus on either a very new (and thus restricted) part of the field, or simply a part that is easy to draw a boundary around. Thus, for example, Harald Stenmark's chapter deals only with PI3P and membrane trafficking, and thus it covers every reference that there is on the subject, but is still short enough and clear enough to be a good read. Steve Shears' chapter on inositol 3,4,5,6-tetrakisphosphate succeeds for exactly the same reason (and thank goodness there is one chapter on the inositol phosphates; all the rest are on the lipids where so much of the action has been in the 1990s - are the 2000s going to be the decade of the inositol phosphates?). Some efforts on larger areas are fine attempts, but can suffer from being just too full of information. For example, the simply heroic chapter by Len Stephens and his colleagues on all the rest of the 3-phosphorylated lipids that Harald didn't cover, runs to 60 pages plus 408 references, and I must admit I was reaching for the aspirin bottle somewhere in the middle. Also, some of the chapters perhaps suffer a bit in competition with reviews in journals - now there is a real proliferation problem (see below) - and with some of them I felt a strong sense of deja revu, whatever the merits of the individual chapter (e.g. those by Sue-Goo Rhee and colleagues on PI-PLC regulation, by Flanagan and Janmey on the cytoskeleton, and by Woscholski and Parker on the inositide phosphatases). I realise at this point that I am raising a much more general question about the need (or not) for books of this ilk in the 21st century. This book is a collection of reviews about selected aspects of a particularly active area of research. However, almost all journals now publish reviews, and we also have tools such as ISI, Medline etc that enable us to find all these up-to-date reviews on whatever topic we want at the push of a computer key. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)

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