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Neuron. 1994 Apr;12(4):707-16.

The exocytotic fusion pore and neurotransmitter release.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 55905.


Membrane fusion is ubiquitous in biological systems, occurring in the simplest of unicellular eukaryotes as well as higher eukaryotes. As soon as the first primitive eukaryotic cell utilized a lipid bilayer as an outer membrane, membrane fusion (and fission) became necessary for the traffic of material from the outside to the inside, the inside to the outside, and between different intracellular membrane-bounded compartments. The earliest cells would have made use of the intrinsic ability of lipid bilayers to fuse under certain conditions. Although this fusogenic property of bilayers has been known for some time, it is has become clear only relatively recently that two phospholipid bilayers will fuse spontaneously, owing to a hydrophobic force, when the bilayers are brought close together under conditions of membrane tension or high curvature (Helm and Israelachvili, 1993). The primeval cell would have used proteins to develop the appropriate architecture in which such fusion would occur in a regulated manner. During the course of evolution, ever more sophisticated ways of regulating this basic process would evolve, but the underlying fusion mechanism would remain unchanged. We have proposed that a macromolecular scaffold of proteins is responsible for bringing the plasma membrane close to the secretory granule membranes and creating the architecture that enables the hydrophobic force to cause fusion (Figure 1; Nanavati et al., 1992; Monck and Fernandez, 1992; Oberhauser and Fernandez, 1993). Evidence is now accumulating that there are several highly conserved families of proteins associated with vesicle fusion events, from yeast to mammalian cells, and with intracellular traffic, as well as with regulated exocytosis and synaptic transmission (Bennett and Scheller, 1993; Sollner et al., 1993; S├╝dhof et al., 1993). The molecular structures (or scaffolds) that regulate membrane fusion are likely to contain related proteins and share certain fundamental properties.

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