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Exocytosis depends on cytosolic domains of SNARE proteins but the function of the transmembrane domains (TMDs) in membrane fusion remains controversial. The TMD of the SNARE protein synaptobrevin2/VAMP2 contains two highly conserved small amino acids, G100 and C103, in its central portion. Substituting G100 and/or C103 with the β-branched amino acid valine impairs the structural flexibility of the TMD in terms of α-helix/β-sheet transitions in model membranes (measured by infrared reflection-absorption or evanescent wave spectroscopy) during increase in protein/lipid ratios, a parameter expected to be altered by recruitment of SNAREs at fusion sites. This structural change is accompanied by reduced membrane fluidity (measured by infrared ellipsometry). The G100V/C103V mutation nearly abolishes depolarization-evoked exocytosis (measured by membrane capacitance) and hormone secretion (measured biochemically). Single-vesicle optical (by TIRF microscopy) and biophysical measurements of ATP release indicate that G100V/C103V retards initial fusion-pore opening, hinders its expansion and leads to premature closure in most instances. We conclude that the TMD of VAMP2 plays a critical role in membrane fusion and that the structural mobility provided by the central small amino acids is crucial for exocytosis by influencing the molecular re-arrangements of the lipid membrane that are necessary for fusion pore opening and expansion.

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Amino Acid Sequence, Animals, Conserved Sequence, Exocytosis, Gene Knockdown Techniques, Hormones, Models, Biological, Models, Molecular, Mutation, Protein Binding, Protein Conformation, Protein Domains, Protein Interaction Domains and Motifs, Rats, Vesicle-Associated Membrane Protein 2