The release of neurotransmitter at a synapse occurs via the regulated fusion of synaptic vesicles with the plasma membrane. The fusion of the two lipid bilayers is mediated by a protein complex that includes the plasma membrane target soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive fusion protein (NSF) attachment protein (SNAP) receptors (t-SNAREs), syntaxin 1A and synaptosome-associated protein of 25kDa (SNAP-25), and the vesicle SNARE (v-SNARE), vesicle-associated membrane protein (VAMP). Whereas syntaxin 1A and VAMP are tethered to the membrane by a C-terminal transmembrane domain, SNAP-25 has been suggested to be anchored to the membrane via four palmitoylated cysteine residues. We demonstrate that the cysteine residues of SNAP-25 are not required for membrane localization when syntaxin 1A is present. Analysis of the 7S and 20S complexes formed by mutants that lack cysteine residues demonstrates that the cysteines are required for efficient SNARE complex dissociation. Furthermore, these mutants are unable to support exocytosis, as demonstrated by a PC12 cell secretion assay. We hypothesize that syntaxin 1A serves to direct newly synthesized SNAP-25 through the Golgi transport pathway to the axons and synapses, and that palmitoylation of cysteine residues is not required for targeting, but to optimize interactions required for SNARE complex dissociation.

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