High tech movies reveal information transfer within cells

r, as many assumed, to be a single expanding diaphragm between two vacuoles which might have allowed the contents to flow together as the diaphragm opens. Rather, a disc of membrane, like a closed door, separates the two vacuoles. It suddenly opens by swinging aside, and the two vacuoles become one. This removable door remains intact even as the contents of the two vacuoles mix.

"The more we understand how such fusion events occur, the more we have the ability to modulate them. Proteins are conserved from yeast to humans, so the membrane fusion process is very similar across species," Wickner pointed out.

The molecules that catalyze the event in yeast are the same ones involved in neurotransmission in the brain or insulin secretion in the pancreas. Understanding how proteins and other substances work to cause membrane fusion can provide clues to the chemical basis of thought, and perhaps, treatment and prevention of certain diseases.

On a practical level, Wickner added, "The way that we developed to measure fusion provides a unique tool for laboratory study and potentially for drug screening. In our biochemical reaction with purified vacuoles from yeast, the test tube contents turn yellow whenever membrane fusion occurs. This allows us to look for chemicals that that promote or inhibit fusion."


Contact: Steve Snyder
Dartmouth Medical School

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