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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1990 Oct;87(20):7804-8.

Tension in secretory granule membranes causes extensive membrane transfer through the exocytotic fusion pore.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905.

Erratum in

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1991 Mar 1;88(5):2035.


For fusion to occur the repulsive forces between two interacting phospholipid bilayers must be reduced. In model systems, this can be achieved by increasing the surface tension of at least one of the membranes. However, there has so far been no evidence that the secretory granule membrane is under tension. We have been studying exocytosis by using the patch-clamp technique to measure the surface area of the plasma membrane of degranulating mast cells. When a secretory granule fuses with the plasma membrane there is a step increase in the cell surface area. Some fusion events are reversible, in which case we have found that the backstep is larger than the initial step, indicating that there is a net decrease in the area of the plasma membrane. The decrease has the following properties: (i) the magnitude is strongly dependent on the lifetime of the fusion event and can be extensive, representing as much as 40% of the initial granule surface area; (ii) the rate of decrease is independent of granule size; and (iii) the decrease is not dependent on swelling of the secretory granule matrix. We conclude that the granule membrane is under tension and that this tension causes a net transfer of membrane from the plasma membrane to the secretory granule, while they are connected by the fusion pore. The high membrane tension in the secretory granule may be the critical stress necessary for bringing about exocytotic fusion.

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