At the moment, little is known about the molecular characteristics of the final step in the process of regulated exocytosis, i.e. the fusion of the membrane of a secretory vesicle with the plasma membrane. We have reconstituted this fusion event in vitro, using zymogen granules and plasma membranes from the exocrine pancreas of the rat. The membranes of zymogen granules were loaded with the lipid-soluble fluorescent probe octadecylrhodamine B, at a concentration that resulted in self-quenching of its fluorescence. The granules were then incubated with pancreatic plasma membranes at 37 degrees C, and fusion was measured through the dilution-dependent de-quenching of the fluorescence of the probe. Zymogen granules fused with pancreatic plasma membranes, but not with plasma membranes from liver or chromaffin cells; granules also fused with unlabelled granule membranes. The fusion of granules with plasma membranes was unaffected by variation of the Ca2+ concentration over a wide range, but fusion of granules with both plasma membranes and zymogen granule membranes was stimulated by GTP and, more potently, by guanosine 5′-[gamma-thio]triphosphate (GTP[S]). The effect of GTP[S] was to increase the extent of fusion occurring at low concentrations of plasma membranes, without affecting the maximum signal obtained at high membrane concentrations. Pre-incubation of the plasma membranes with GTP[S] also enhanced their ability to fuse with zymogen granules. Our results indicate that membrane fusion during exocytosis may be under the direct control of a GTP-binding protein.

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