The fusion of lipid membranes is a key process in biology. It enables cells and organelles to exchange molecules with their surroundings, which otherwise could not cross the membrane barrier. To study such complex processes we use simplified artificial model systems, i.e., an optical fusion assay based on membrane-coated glass spheres. We present a technique to analyze membrane-membrane interactions in a large ensemble of particles. Detailed information on the geometry of the fusion stalk of fully fused membranes is obtained by studying the diffusional lipid dynamics with fluorescence recovery after photobleaching experiments. A small contact zone is a strong obstruction for the particle exchange across the fusion spot. With the aid of computer simulations, fluorescence-recovery-after-photobleaching recovery times of both fused and single-membrane-coated beads allow us to estimate the size of the contact zones between two membrane-coated beads. Minimizing delamination and bending energy leads to minimal angles close to those geometrically allowed.
Savić, F., Kliesch, T. T., Verbeek, S., Bao, C., Thiart, J., Kros, A., … Janshoff, A. (2016). Geometry of the Contact Zone between Fused Membrane-Coated Beads Mimicking Cell-Cell Fusion. Biophysical Journal, 110(10), 2216–2228. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2016.04.026