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J Mol Biol. 2006 Mar 17;357(1):184-94. Epub 2006 Jan 6.

Alternate interfaces may mediate homomeric and heteromeric assembly in the transmembrane domains of SNARE proteins.

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T. C. Jenkins Department of Biophysics, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.


The fusion of a vesicle to a target membrane is mediated by temporally and spatially regulated interactions within a set of evolutionarily conserved proteins. Integral to proper fusion is the interaction between proteins originating on both vesicle and target membranes to form a protein bridge between the two membranes, known as the SNARE complex. This protein complex includes the single-pass transmembrane helix proteins: syntaxin and synaptobrevin. Experimental data and amino acid sequence analysis suggest that an interface of interaction is conserved between the transmembrane regions of the two proteins. However, conflicting reports have been presented on the role of the synaptobrevin transmembrane domain in mediating important protein-protein interactions. To address this question, a thermodynamic study was carried out to determine quantitatively the self-association propensities of the transmembrane domains of synaptobrevin and syntaxin. Our results show that the transmembrane domain of synaptobrevin has only a modest ability to self-associate, whereas the transmembrane domain of syntaxin is able to form stable homodimers. Nevertheless, by a single amino acid substitution, synaptobrevin can be driven to dimerize with the same affinity as syntaxin. Furthermore, crosslinking studies show that dimerization of synaptobrevin is promoted by oxidizing agents. Despite the presence of a conserved cysteine residue in the same location as in synaptobrevin, syntaxin dimerization is not promoted by oxidization. This analysis suggests that subtle yet distinct differences are present between the two transmembrane dimer interfaces. A syntaxin/synaptobrevin heterodimer is able to form under oxidizing conditions, and we propose that the interface of interaction for the heterodimer may resemble the homodimer interface formed by the synaptobrevin transmembrane domain. Computational analysis of the transmembrane sequences of syntaxin and synaptobrevin reveal structural models that correlate with the experimental data. These data may provide insight into the role of transmembrane segments in the mechanism of vesicle fusion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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