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Fast, Ca2+-dependent exocytosis at nerve terminals: shortcomings of SNARE-based models.


Investigations over the last two decades have made major inroads in clarifying the cellular and molecular events that underlie the fast, synchronous release of neurotransmitter at nerve endings. Thus, appreciable progress has been made in establishing the structural features and biophysical properties of the calcium (Ca2+) channels that mediate the entry into nerve endings of the Ca2+ ions that trigger neurotransmitter release. It is now clear that presynaptic Ca2+ channels are regulated at many levels and the interplay of these regulatory mechanisms is just beginning to be understood. At the same time, many lines of research have converged on the conclusion that members of the synaptotagmin family serve as the primary Ca2+ sensors for the action potential-dependent release of neurotransmitter. This identification of synaptotagmins as the proteins which bind Ca2+ and initiate the exocytotic fusion of synaptic vesicles with the plasma membrane has spurred widespread efforts to reveal molecular details of synaptotagmin's action. Currently, most models propose that synaptotagmin interfaces directly or indirectly with SNARE (soluble, N-ethylmaleimide sensitive factor attachment receptors) proteins to trigger membrane fusion. However, in spite of intensive efforts, the field has not achieved consensus on the mechanism by which synaptotagmins act. Concurrently, the precise sequence of steps underlying SNARE-dependent membrane fusion remains controversial. This review considers the pros and cons of the different models of SNARE-mediated membrane fusion and concludes by discussing a novel proposal in which synaptotagmins might directly elicit membrane fusion without the intervention of SNARE proteins in this final fusion step.

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