Studies on membrane fusion. III. The role of calcium-induced phase changes

D. Papahadjopoulos, W. J. Vail, C. Newton, S. Nir, K. Jacobson, G. Poste, R. Lazo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

381 Scopus citations


The interaction of phosphatidylserine vesicles with Ca2+ and Mg2+ has been examined by several techniques to study the mechanism of membrane fusion. Data are presented on the effects of Ca2+ and Mg2+ on vesicle permeability, thermotropic phase transitions and morphology determined by differential scanning calorimetry, X-ray diffraction, and freeze-fracture electron microscopy. These data are discussed in relation to information concerning Ca2+ binding, charge neutralization, molecular packing, vesicle aggregation, phase transitions, phase separations and vesicle fusion. The results indicate that at Ca2+ concentrations of 1.0-2.0 mM, a highly cooperative phenomenon occurs which results in increased vesicle permeability, aggregation and fusion of the vesicles. Under these conditions the hydrocarbon chains of the lipid bilayers undergo a phase change from a fluid to a crystalline state. The aggregation of vesicles that is observed during fusion is not sufficient in itself to induce fusion without a concomitant phase change. Mg2+ in the range of 2.0-5.0 mM induces aggregation of phosphatidylserine vesicles but no significant fusion nor a phase change. From the effect of variations in pH, temperature, Ca2+ and Mg2+ concentration on the fusion of vesicles, it is concluded that the key event leading to vesicle membrane fusion is the isothermic phase change induced by the bivalent metals. It is proposed that this phase change induces a transient destabilization of the bilayer membranes that become susceptible to fusion at domain boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)579-598
Number of pages20
JournalBBA - Biomembranes
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 17 1977
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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