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Biophys J. 2010 Dec 15;99(12):4047-55. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2010.10.022.

Single SNARE-mediated vesicle fusion observed in vitro by polarized TIRFM.

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Center for Membrane Biology and Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.


Single-vesicle fusion assays in vitro are useful tools for examining mechanisms of membrane fusion at the molecular level mediated by soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptors (SNAREs). This approach allows the experimentalist to define the lipid and protein composition of the two fusing membranes and perform experiments under highly controlled conditions. In previous experiments, in which we reconstituted a SNARE acceptor complex into supported membranes and observed the docking and fusion of fluorescently labeled synaptobrevin proteoliposomes by total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy with millisecond time resolution, we were able to determine the optimal number of SNARE complexes needed for fast fusion. Here, we utilize this assay in combination with polarized total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy to investigate topology changes that vesicles undergo after the onset of fusion. The theory that describes the fluorescence intensity during the transformation of a single vesicle from a spherical particle to a flat membrane patch is developed and confirmed by experiments with three different fluorescent probes. Our results show that on average, the fusing vesicles flatten and merge into the planar membrane within 8 ms after fusion starts.

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