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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1981 Mar 20;642(1):182-95.

Studies on the mechanism of membrane fusion. Role of head-group composition in calcium- and magnesium-induced fusion of mixed phospholipid vesicles.


We have investigated the contribution of various phospholipids to membrane fusion induced by divalent cations. Fusion was followed by means of a new fluorescence assay monitoring the mixing of internal aqueous contents of large (0.1 micrometer diameter) unilamellar liposomes. The rate and extent of fusion induced by Ca2+ in mixed phosphatidylserine/phosphatidylcholine vesicles were lower compared to those in pure phosphatidylserine vesicles. The presence of 50% phosphatidylcholine completely inhibited fusion, although the vesicles aggregated upon Ca2+ addition. When phosphatidylserine was mixed with phosphatidylethanolamine, however, rapid fusion could be induced by Ca2+ even in mixtures that contained only 25% phosphatidylserine. Phosphatidylethanolamine also facilitated fusion by Mg2+ which could not fuse pure phosphatidylserine vesicles. In phosphatidylserine/phosphatidylethanolamine/phosphatidylcholine mixtures, in which the phosphatidylcholine content was kept at 25%, phosphatidylethanolamine could not substitute for phosphatidylserine, and the fusogenic capacity of Mg2+ was abolished by the presence of merely 10% phosphatidylcholine. The initial rate of release of vesicle contents was slower than the rate of fusion in all the mixtures used. The presence of phosphate effected a considerable decrease in the threshold concentration of Ca2+ and also enhanced the rate and extent of fusion. Mg2+ had a synergistic effect on Ca2+-induced fusion of phosphatidylserine/phosphatidylethanolamine vesicles. We suggest that the role of phospholipids in membrane fusion is related to their ability to form dehydrated intermembrane complexes with divalent cations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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