Auto-fusion and the shaping of neurons and tubes

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2016 Dec;60:136-145. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2016.07.018. Epub 2016 Jul 18.


Cells adopt specific shapes that are necessary for specific functions. For example, some neurons extend elaborate arborized dendrites that can contact multiple targets. Epithelial and endothelial cells can form tiny seamless unicellular tubes with an intracellular lumen. Recent advances showed that cells can auto-fuse to acquire those specific shapes. During auto-fusion, a cell merges two parts of its own plasma membrane. In contrast to cell-cell fusion or macropinocytic fission, which result in the merging or formation of two separate membrane bound compartments, auto-fusion preserves one compartment, but changes its shape. The discovery of auto-fusion in C. elegans was enabled by identification of specific protein fusogens, EFF-1 and AFF-1, that mediate cell-cell fusion. Phenotypic characterization of eff-1 and aff-1 mutants revealed that fusogen-mediated fusion of two parts of the same cell can be used to sculpt dendritic arbors, reconnect two parts of an axon after injury, or form a hollow unicellular tube. Similar auto-fusion events recently were detected in vertebrate cells, suggesting that auto-fusion could be a widely used mechanism for shaping neurons and tubes.

Keywords: Auto-fusion; Dendrite morphogenesis; Fusogen; Neurons regeneration; Seamless tube.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology
  • Cell Fusion
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology*
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology*
  • Morphogenesis
  • Nerve Regeneration
  • Neurons / cytology*