SNAPs and SNAREs; June 1993; Scientific American Magazine; by John Rennie; 2 Page(s)
Many essential proteins in the cells of higher organisms are ferried from one organelle to the next inside small membrane packages. When they arrive at their target, these vesicles merge with the membrane they find there, an event called fusion. Growth, secretion and other vital processes all depend on this complex phenomenon. But details of this aspect of intracellular protein transport have been slow to emerge. Biologists still do not entirely understand how the vesicles recognize their destination or how they incorporate themselves into another membrane.
That situation has begun to change because of work by James E. Rothman and Thomas S¿llner and their colleagues at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. They have identified cellular proteins that seem to control fusion mechanisms in all eukaryotic (complex) cells, from yeast to humans. Moreover, the same proteins seem to be involved both in fusion events that occur spontaneously and in those that are regulated, such as the release of neurotransmitters from brain cells. "So we have a finding that unites several different fields," Rothman observes."Seemingly different questions in cell biology and neurobiology are revealed to be the same question"-- a neat feat of fusion in itself.