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Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2003 Aug;285(2):C237-49.

What is the role of SNARE proteins in membrane fusion?

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Univ. of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor activating protein receptor (SNARE) proteins have been at the fore-front of research on biological membrane fusion for some time. The subcellular localization of SNAREs and their ability to form the so-called SNARE complex may be integral to determining the specificity of intracellular fusion (the SNARE hypothesis) and/or serving as the minimal fusion machinery. Both the SNARE hypothesis and the idea of the minimal fusion machinery have been challenged by a number of experimental observations in various model systems, suggesting that SNAREs may have other functions. Considering recent advances in the SNARE literature, it appears that SNAREs may actually function as part of a complex fusion "machine." Their role in the machinery could be any one or a combination of roles, including establishing tight membrane contact, formation of a scaffolding on which to build the machine, binding of lipid surfaces, and many others. It is also possible that complexations other than the classic SNARE complex participate in membrane fusion.

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