Membrane fusion is central to many areas of endocrine and exocrine physiology, and imbalances in these processes give rise to important diseases, such as diabetes. As a result of the work supported by this grant during the current cycle of funding, the core principle of cellular membrane fusion is now well established, consisting of the assembly of cognate SNARE proteins initially residing in apposing membranes to yield a stable, bridging complex that triggers the bilayers to merge. How does the assembly of SNARE proteins between membranes drive membrane fusion? A mechanistic understanding of the fusion event, in which as many as four separate proteins fold together to fuse apposing bilayers, will require the combined power of a variety of biophysical approaches. Such an undertaking has become possible only recently, thanks to continuing advances in both SNARE fusion biochemistry and biophysical membrane technologies. We will use different complementary technologies (cellular and molecular biology, electrophysiology, surface force/adhesion, and optical imaging), to follow SNARE dynamics and function in real time. SNARE proteins will be reconstituted in both synthetic and biological membranes, thus allowing measurements in fully reconstituted membrane environments as well as in less flexible but more physiological cellular membranes. Within these systems, we will determine the energetics of SNARE-assembly, the consequences of membrane composition and membrane tension on fusion, and the dynamics of the fusion pore itself. Insights gained in the different approaches can be linked by comparing the effects of critical mutations and other perturbations. By following this program, whose value has been proven with viral fusion proteins, we expect new and important information concerning cellular membrane fusion to emerge during the next five years.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award (R37)
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Membrane Biology and Protein Processing (MBPP)
Program Officer
Haft, Carol R
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Yale University
Anatomy/Cell Biology
Schools of Medicine
New Haven
United States
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