Distinct initial SNARE configurations underlying the diversity of exocytosis

Physiol Rev. 2012 Oct;92(4):1915-64. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00007.2012.


The dynamics of exocytosis are diverse and have been optimized for the functions of synapses and a wide variety of cell types. For example, the kinetics of exocytosis varies by more than five orders of magnitude between ultrafast exocytosis in synaptic vesicles and slow exocytosis in large dense-core vesicles. However, in all cases, exocytosis is mediated by the same fundamental mechanism, i.e., the assembly of soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptor (SNARE) proteins. It is often assumed that vesicles need to be docked at the plasma membrane and SNARE proteins must be preassembled before exocytosis is triggered. However, this model cannot account for the dynamics of exocytosis recently reported in synapses and other cells. For example, vesicles undergo exocytosis without prestimulus docking during tonic exocytosis of synaptic vesicles in the active zone. In addition, epithelial and hematopoietic cells utilize cAMP and kinases to trigger slow exocytosis of nondocked vesicles. In this review, we summarize the manner in which the diversity of exocytosis reflects the initial configurations of SNARE assembly, including trans-SNARE, binary-SNARE, unitary-SNARE, and cis-SNARE configurations. The initial SNARE configurations depend on the particular SNARE subtype (syntaxin, SNAP25, or VAMP), priming proteins (Munc18, Munc13, CAPS, complexin, or snapin), triggering proteins (synaptotagmins, Doc2, and various protein kinases), and the submembraneous cytomatrix, and they are the key to determining the kinetics of subsequent exocytosis. These distinct initial configurations will help us clarify the common SNARE assembly processes underlying exocytosis and membrane trafficking in eukaryotic cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Exocytosis / physiology*
  • Protein Conformation
  • SNARE Proteins / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism


  • SNARE Proteins