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J Cell Sci. 2002 Jul 1;115(Pt 13):2627-37.

Vesicle tethering complexes in membrane traffic.

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  • 1MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QH, UK.


Despite the recent progress in the field of membrane traffic, the question of how the specificity of membrane fusion is achieved has yet to be resolved. It has become apparent that the SNARE proteins, although central to the process of fusion, are often not the first point of contact between a vesicle and its target. Instead, a poorly understood tethering process physically links the two before fusion occurs. Many factors that have an apparent role in tethering have been identified. Among these are several large protein complexes. Until recently, these seemed unrelated, which was a surprise since proteins involved in membrane traffic often form families, members of which function in each transport step. Recent work has shown that three of the complexes are in fact related. We refer to these as the 'quatrefoil' tethering complexes, since they appear to share a fourfold nature. Here we describe the quatrefoil complexes and other, unrelated, tethering complexes, and discuss ideas about their function. We propose that vesicle tethering may have separate kinetic and thermodynamic elements and that it may be usefully divided into events upstream and downstream of the function of Rab GTPases. Moreover, the diversity of tethering complexes in the cell suggests that not all tethering events occur through the same mechanisms.

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