Freeze-fracture electron micrographs from degranulating cells show that the lumen of the secretory granule is connected to the extracellular compartment via large (20 to 150 nm diameter) aqueous pores. These exocytotic fusion pores appear to be made up of a highly curved bilayer that spans the plasma and granule membranes. Conductance measurements, using the patch-clamp technique, have been used to study the fusion pore from the instant it conducts ions. These measurements reveal the presence of early fusion pores that are much smaller than those observed in electron micrographs. Early fusion pores open abruptly, fluctuate, and then either expand irreversibly or close. The molecular structure of these early fusion pores is unknown. In the simplest extremes, these early fusion pores could be either ion channel like protein pores or lipidic pores. Here, we explored the latter possibility, namely that of the early exocytotic fusion pore modeled as a lipid-lined pore whose free energy was composed of curvature elastic energy and work done by tension. Like early exocytotic fusion pores, we found that these lipidic pores could open abruptly, fluctuate, and expand irreversibly. Closure of these lipidic pores could be caused by slight changes in lipid composition. Conductance distributions for stable lipidic pores matched those of exocytotic fusion pores. These findings demonstrate that lipidic pores can exhibit the properties of exocytotic fusion pores, thus providing an alternate framework with which to understand and interpret exocytotic fusion pore data.
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