Intracellular membrane fusion events require a general protein machinery that functions in vesicular traffic and in assembly and maintenance of organelles. An array of cytosolic and integral membrane proteins are currently identified, and in conjunction with ongoing detailed structural studies, rapid progress is made in understanding basic features of the overall mechanism of the fusion machinery, but above all a proper appreciation of its enormous complexity. Thus a highly sophisticated level of regulation of the different steps involved in tethering, docking and merging itself is apparent. Apart from the relevance of protein–protein interactions, also a role of distinct lipids is gradually emerging, particularly in fusion. However, although various suggestions have been made recently, largely based upon in vitro studies, the identity of the actual fusion factor(s) remains to be determined.

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