Biophysical journal

Activation thermodynamics of poly(ethylene glycol)-mediated model membrane fusion support mechanistic models of stalk and pore formation.

PMID 22735525


Membrane fusion, essential to eukaryotic life, is broadly envisioned as a three-step process proceeding from contacting bilayers through two semistable, nonlamellar lipidic intermediate states to a fusion pore. Here, we introduced a new, to our knowledge, experimental approach to gain insight into the nature of the transition states between initial, intermediate, and final states. Recorded time courses of lipid-mixing, content-mixing, and content-leakage associated with fusion of 23 nm vesicles in the presence of poly(ethylene glycol) at multiple temperatures were fitted globally to a three-step sequential model to yield rate constants and thereby activation thermodynamics for each step of the process, as well as probabilities of occurrence of lipid-mixing, content-mixing, or content-leakage in each state. Experiments with membranes containing hexadecane, known to reduce interstice energy in nonlamellar structures, provided additional insight into the nature of fusion intermediates and transition states. The results support a hypothesis for the mechanism of stalk formation (step-1) that involves acyl chain protrusions into the interbilayer contact region, a hypothesis for a step-2 mechanism involving continuous interconversion of semistable nonlamellar intermediates, and a hypothesis for step-3 (pore formation) mechanism involving correlated movement of whole lipid molecules into hydrophobic spaces created by geometry mismatch between intermediate structures.

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Hexadecane, analytical standard