Hemi-fused structure mediates and controls fusion and fission in live cells

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Abstract

Membrane fusion and fission are vital for eukaryotic life1,2,3,4,5. For three decades, it has been proposed that fusion is mediated by fusion between the proximal leaflets of two bilayers (hemi-fusion) to produce a hemi-fused structure, followed by fusion between the distal leaflets, whereas fission is via hemi-fission, which also produces a hemi-fused structure, followed by full fission1,4,6,7,8,9,10. This hypothesis remained unsupported owing to the lack of observation of hemi-fusion or hemi-fission in live cells. A competing fusion hypothesis involving protein-lined pore formation has also been proposed2,11,12,13,14,15. Here we report the observation of a hemi-fused Ω-shaped structure in live neuroendocrine chromaffin cells and pancreatic β-cells, visualized using confocal and super-resolution stimulated emission depletion microscopy. This structure is generated from fusion pore opening or closure (fission) at the plasma membrane. Unexpectedly, the transition to full fusion or fission is determined by competition between fusion and calcium/dynamin-dependent fission mechanisms, and is notably slow (seconds to tens of seconds) in a substantial fraction of the events. These results provide key missing evidence in support of the hemi-fusion and hemi-fission hypothesis in live cells, and reveal the hemi-fused intermediate as a key structure controlling fusion and fission, as fusion and fission mechanisms compete to determine the transition to fusion or fission.

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