Homotypic (self) fusion of yeast vacuoles, which is essential for the low copy number of this organelle, uses catalytic elements similar to those used in heterotypic vesicular trafficking reactions between different organelles throughout nature. The study of vacuole inheritance has benefited from the ease of vacuole isolation, the availability of the yeast genome sequence and numerous mutants, and from a rapid, quantitative in vitro assay of fusion. The soluble proteins and small molecules that support fusion are being defined, conserved membrane proteins that catalyze the reaction have been identified, and the vacuole membrane has been solubilized and reconstituted into fusion-competent proteoliposomes, allowing the eventual purification of all needed factors. Studies of homotypic vacuole fusion have suggested a modified paradigm of membrane fusion in which integral membrane proteins termed “SNAREs” can form stable complexes in (when on the same membrane) as well as in (when anchored to opposing membranes). Chaperones (NSF/Sec18p, LMA1, and α-SNAP/Sec17p) disassemble -SNARE complexes to prepare for the docking of organelles rather than to drive fusion. The specificity of organelle docking resides in a cascade of -interactions (involving Rab-like GTPases), “tethering factors,” and -SNARE pairing. Fusion itself, the mixing of the membrane bilayers and the organelle contents, is triggered by calcium signaling.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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