Exocytosis is the final event in the secretory pathway and requires the fusion of the secretory vesicle membrane with the plasma membrane. It results in the release to the outside of vesicle cargo from the cell interior and also the delivery of vesicle membrane and proteins to the plasma membrane. An electrophysiological assay that measures changes in membrane capacitance has recently been used to monitor exocytosis in plants. This complements information derived from earlier light and electron microscope studies, and allows both transient and irreversible fusion of single exocytotic vesicles to be followed with high resolution in protoplasts. It also provides a tool to investigate bulk exocytotic activity in single protoplasts under the influence of cytoplasmic modulators. This research highlights the role of intracellular Ca2+, GTP and pressure in the control of exocytosis in plants. In parallel to these functional studies, plant proteins with the potential to regulate exocytosis are being identified by molecular analysis. In this review we describe these electrophysiological and molecular advances, and emphasise the need for parallel biochemical work to provide a complete picture of the mechanisms controlling vesicle fusion at the plasma membrane of plant cells.
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