Mitochondria are double-membrane-bound organelles that constantly change shape through membrane fusion and fission. Outer mitochondrial membrane fusion is controlled by Mitofusin, whose molecular architecture consists of an N-terminal GTPase domain, a first heptad repeat domain (HR1), two transmembrane domains, and a second heptad repeat domain (HR2). The mode of action of Mitofusin and the specific roles played by each of these functional domains in mitochondrial fusion are not fully understood. Here, using a combination of in situ and in vitro fusion assays, we show that HR1 induces membrane fusion and possesses a conserved amphipathic helix that folds upon interaction with the lipid bilayer surface. Our results strongly suggest that HR1 facilitates membrane fusion by destabilizing the lipid bilayer structure, notably in membrane regions presenting lipid packing defects. This mechanism for fusion is thus distinct from that described for the heptad repeat domains of SNARE and viral proteins, which assemble as membrane-bridging complexes, triggering close membrane apposition and fusion, and is more closely related to that of the C-terminal amphipathic tail of the Atlastin protein.
Keywords: Mitofusin; amphipathic helix; fusion; membrane; mitochondria.
© 2018 The Authors.