Vesicle fusion is elementary for intracellular trafficking and release of signal molecules, thus providing the basis for diverse forms of intercellular communication like hormonal regulation or synaptic transmission. A detailed characterization of the mechanisms underlying exocytosis is key to understand how the nervous system integrates information and generates appropriate responses to stimuli. The machinery for vesicular release employs common molecular players in different model systems including neuronal and neuroendocrine cells, in particular members of the SNARE (soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptors) protein family, Sec1/Munc18-like proteins, and other accessory factors. To achieve temporal precision and speed, excitable cells utilize specialized regulatory proteins like synaptotagmin and complexin, whose interplay putatively synchronizes vesicle fusion and enhances stimulus-secretion coupling. In this review, we aim to highlight recent progress and emerging views on the molecular mechanisms, by which constitutively forming SNAREpins are organized in functional, tightly regulated units for synchronized release. Specifically, we will focus on the role of vesicle associated membrane proteins, also referred to as vesicular SNAREs, in fusion and rapid cargo discharge. We will further discuss the functions of SNARE regulators during exocytosis and focus on chromaffin cell as a model system of choice that allows for detailed structure-function analyses and direct measurements of vesicle fusion under precise control of intracellular [Ca]i.
Keywords: Ca2+-triggered exocytosis; Exocytosis; Membrane fusion; SNARE proteins; SNARE regulators.