The earliest event in exocytosis is the formation of a fusion pore, an aqueous channel that connects the lumen of a secretory granule with the extracellular space. We can observe the formation of individual fusion pores and their subsequent dilation or closure by measuring the changes in the admittance of patch-clamped mast cells during GTP gamma S-stimulated exocytotic fusion. To investigate the molecular structure of the fusion pore, we have studied the temperature dependency of the rate constants for fusion pore formation and closure. An Arrhenius plot of the rate of fusion pore formation shows a simple linear relationship with an apparent activation energy of 23 kcal/mol. In contrast, the Arrhenius plot of the rate of closure of the fusion pore is discontinuous, with the break at approximately 13 degrees C. Above the break point, the rate of closure has a weak temperature dependence (7 kcal/mol), whereas below 13 degrees C the rate of closure is temperature independent. This type of temperature dependency is characteristic of events that depend on diffusion in a lipid phase that undergoes a fluid-solid phase transition. We propose that the formation of the fusion pore is regulated by the conformational change of a molecular structure with a high activation energy, whereas the closure of the fusion pore is regulated by lipids that become phase separated at 13 degrees C.
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