The fusion of biological membranes results in two bilayer-based membranes merging into a single membrane. In this process the lipids have to undergo considerable rearrangement. The nature of the intermediates that are formed during this rearrangement has been investigated. Certain fusion proteins facilitate this process. In many cases short segments of these fusion proteins have a particularly important role in accelerating the fusion process. Studies of the interaction of model peptides with membranes have allowed for increased understanding at the molecular level of the mechanism of the promotion of membrane fusion by fusion proteins. There is an increased appreciation of the roles of several independent segments of fusion proteins in promoting the fusion process.
Many of the studies of the fusion of biological membranes have been done with the fusion of enveloped viruses with other membranes. One reason for this is that the number of proteins involved in viral fusion is relatively simple, often requiring only a single protein. For many enveloped viruses, the structure of their fusion proteins has certain common elements, suggesting that they all promote fusion by an analogous mechanism. Some aspects of this mechanism also appears to be common to intracellular fusion, although several proteins are involved in that process which is more complex and regulated than is fusion.