In the late endocytic pathway, it has been proposed that endocytosed macromolecules are delivered to a proteolytic environment by 'kiss-and-run' events or direct fusion between late endosomes and lysosomes. To test whether the fusion hypothesis accounts for delivery to lysosomes in living cells, we have used confocal microscopy to examine content mixing between lysosomes loaded with rhodamine-dextran and endosomes subsequently loaded with Oregon-Green-dextran. Both kissing and explosive fusion events were recorded. Data from cell-free content-mixing assays have suggested that fusion is initiated by tethering, which leads to formation of a trans-SNARE (soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive fusion protein attachment protein receptor) protein complex and then release of lumenal Ca2+, followed by membrane bilayer fusion. We have shown that the R-SNARE (arginine-containing SNARE) protein VAMP (vesicle-associated membrane protein) 7 is necessary for heterotypic fusion between late endosomes and lysosomes, whereas a different R-SNARE, VAMP 8 is required for homotypic fusion of late endosomes. After fusion of lysosomes with late endosomes, lysosomes are re-formed from the resultant hybrid organelles, a process requiring condensation of content and the removal/recycling of some membrane proteins.

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