Studies on membrane fusion. II. Induction of fusion in pure phospholipid membranes by calcium ions and other divalent metals

D. Papahadjopoulos, W. J. Vail, W. A. Pangborn, G. Poste

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253 Scopus citations


The effect of divalent metals on the interaction and mixing of membrane components in vesicles prepared from acidic phospholipids has been examined using freeze-fracture electron microscopy and differential scanning calorimetry. Ca2+, and to a certain extent Mg2+, induce extensive mixing of vesicle membrane components and drastic structural rearrangements to form new membranous structures. In contrast to the mixing of vesicle membrane components in the absence of Ca2+ described in the accompanying paper which occurs via diffusion of lipid molecules between vesicles, mixing of membrane components induced by Ca2+ or Mg2+ results from true fusion of entire vesicles. There appears to be a "threshold" concentration at which Ca2+ and Mg2+ become effective in inducing vesicle fusion and the threshold concentration varies for different acidic phospholipid species. Different phospholipids also vary markedly in their relative responsiveness to Ca2+ and Mg2+, with certain phospholipids being much more susceptible to fusion by Ca2+ than Mg2+. Vesicle fusion induced by divalent cations also requires that the lipids of the interacting membranes be in a "fluid" state (T > Tc). Fusion of vesicle membranes by Ca2+ and Mg2+ does not appear to be due to simple electrostatic charge neutralization. Rather the action of these cations in inducing fusion is related to their ability to induce isothermal phase transitions and phase separations in phospholipid membranes. It is suggested that under these conditions membranes become transiently susceptible to fusion as a result of changes in molecular packing and creation of new phase boundaries induced by Ca2+ (or Mg2+).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-283
Number of pages19
JournalBBA - Biomembranes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 5 1976
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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