Calcium-dependent synaptic vesicle exocytosis requires three SNARE (soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive-factor attachment protein receptor) proteins: synaptobrevin/vesicle-associated membrane protein in the vesicular membrane and syntaxin and SNAP-25 in the presynaptic membrane. The SNAREs form a thermodynamically stable complex that is believed to drive fusion of vesicular and presynaptic membranes. Complexin, also known as synaphin, is a neuronal cytosolic protein that acts as a positive regulator of synaptic vesicle exocytosis. Complexin binds selectively to the neuronal SNARE complex, but how this promotes exocytosis remains unknown. Here we used purified full-length and truncated SNARE proteins and a gel shift assay to show that the action of complexin on SNARE complex depends strictly on the transmembrane regions of syntaxin and synaptobrevin. By means of a preparative immunoaffinity procedure to achieve total extraction of SNARE complex from brain, we demonstrated that complexin is the only neuronal protein that tightly associates with it. Our data indicated that, in the presence of complexin, the neuronal SNARE proteins assemble directly into a complex in which the transmembrane regions interact. We propose that complexin facilitates neuronal exocytosis by promoting interaction between the complementary syntaxin and synaptobrevin transmembrane regions that reside in opposing membranes prior to fusion.
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