The Membrane Fusion Enigma: SNAREs, Sec1/Munc18 Proteins, and Their Accomplices-Guilty as Charged?
Neurotransmitter release is governed by proteins that have homo-logs in most types of intracellular membrane fusion, including the Sec1/Munc18 protein Munc18-1 and the SNARE proteins syntaxin-1, synaptobrevin/VAMP, and SNAP-25. The SNAREs initiate fusion by forming tight SNARE complexes that bring the vesicle and plasma membranes together. SNARE maintenance in a functional state depends on two chaperone systems (Hsc70/αCSP/SGT and synuclein); defects in these systems lead to neurodegeneration. Munc18-1 binds to an autoinhibitory closed conformation of syntaxin-1, gating formation of SNARE complexes, and also binds to SNARE complexes, which likely underlies the crucial function of Munc18-1 in membrane fusion by an as-yet unclear mechanism. Syntaxin-1 opening is mediated by Munc13s through their MUN domain, which is homologous to diverse tethering factors and may also have a general role in fusion. MUN domain activity is likely modulated in diverse presynaptic plasticity processes that depend on Ca(2+) and RIM proteins, among others.