SNARE (soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive fusion protein-attachment protein receptor) proteins involved in membrane fusion usually contain a conserved α-helix (SNARE motif) that is flanked by a C-terminal transmembrane domain. They can be classified into Q-SNARE and R-SNARE based on the structural property of their motifs. Assembly of four SNARE motifs (Qa, b, c and R) is supposed to trigger membrane fusion. We have previously shown that ER (endoplasmic reticulum)-localized syntaxin 18 (Qa) forms a complex with BNIP1 (Qb), p31/Use1 (Qc), Sec22b (R) and several peripheral membrane proteins. In the present study, we examined the interaction of syntaxin 18 with other SNAREs using pulldown assays and CD spectroscopy. We found that the association of syntaxin 18 with Sec22b induces an increase in α-helicity of their SNARE motifs, which results in the formation of high-affinity binding sites for BNIP1 and p31. This R-SNARE-dependent Q-SNARE assembly is quite different from the assembly mechanisms of SNAREs localized in organelles other than the ER. The implication of the mechanism of ER SNARE assembly is discussed in the context of the physiological roles of the syntaxin 18 complex.

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