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J Mol Biol. 2001 Aug 24;311(4):709-21.

Peptide mimics of SNARE transmembrane segments drive membrane fusion depending on their conformational plasticity.

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Department of Neurobiology, Im Neuenheimer Feld 364, Universit├Ąt Heidelberg, D-69120, Germany.


SNARE proteins are essential for different types of intracellular membrane fusion. Whereas interaction between their cytoplasmic domains is held responsible for establishing membrane proximity, the role of the transmembrane segments in the fusion process is currently not clear. Here, we used an in vitro approach based on lipid mixing and electron microscopy to examine a potential fusogenic activity of the transmembrane segments. We show that the presence of synthetic peptides representing the transmembrane segments of the presynaptic soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptors (SNAREs) synaptobrevin II (also referred to as VAMP II) or syntaxin 1A, but not of an unrelated control peptide, in liposomal membranes drives their fusion. Liposome aggregation by millimolar Ca(2+) concentrations strongly potentiated the effect of the peptides; this indicates that juxtaposition of the bilayers favours their fusion in the absence of the cytoplasmic SNARE domains. Peptide-driven fusion is reminiscent of natural membrane fusion, since it was suppressed by lysolipid and involved both bilayer leaflets. This suggests transient presence of a hemifusion intermediate followed by complete membrane merger. Structural studies of the peptides in lipid bilayers performed by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy indicated mixtures of alpha-helical and beta-sheet conformations. In isotropic solution, circular dichroism spectroscopy showed the peptides to exist in a concentration-dependent equilibrium of alpha-helical and beta-sheet structures. Interestingly, the fusogenic activity decreased with increasing stability of the alpha-helical solution structure for a panel of variant peptides. Thus, structural plasticity of transmembrane segments may be important for SNARE protein function at a late step in membrane fusion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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