Membrane fusion is essential for cellular transport in eukaryotes. Abnormalities contribute to a wide range of diseases including diabetes and neurological disorders. We focus on two protein families that are key for membrane fusion: (1) the Sec1p/Munc18 (SM) and (2) the soluble-N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive attachment protein receptor (SNARE) proteins. How these proteins regulate membrane fusion is still unclear.
A major outcome over the past years has been the tremendous advance in our understanding of the regulation of SNARE proteins involved in insulin-stimulated trafficking of the GLUT4 glucose transporter. This process, which is critical to the regulation of blood glucose levels, is affected in Type II Diabetes. We aim to understand the structure of a number of SNARE systems and complexes, not just those involved in GLUT4 transportation. This will help us to unravel the molecular mechanism(s) behind SNARE protein interactions and better understand how they regulate membrane fusion.