Mechanical unzipping and rezipping of a single SNARE complex reveals hysteresis as a force-generating mechanism

Nat Commun. 2013:4:1705. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2692.


Formation of the soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptor (SNARE) complex provides mechanical thrust for membrane fusion, but its molecular mechanism is still unclear. Here using magnetic tweezers, we observe mechanical responses of a single neuronal SNARE complex under constant pulling force. Single SNARE complexes may be unzipped with 34 pN force. When rezipping is induced by lowering the force to 11 pN, only a partially assembled state results, with the C-terminal half of the SNARE complex remaining disassembled. Reassembly of the C-terminal half occurs only when the force is further lowered below 11 pN. Thus, mechanical hysteresis, characterized by the unzipping and rezipping cycle of a single SNARE complex, produces the partially assembled state. In this metastable state, unzipping toward the N-terminus is suppressed while zippering toward the C-terminus is initiated as a steep function of force. This ensures the directionality of SNARE-complex formation, making the SNARE complex a robust force-generating machine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Magnetics
  • Membrane Fusion
  • SNARE Proteins / metabolism*


  • SNARE Proteins