Disruption of plasma membranes is a widespread, common and normal event that occurs in many mechanically challenged tissues (McNeil & Steinhardt, 1997). After injury to the plasma membrane, rapid resealing of the membrane occurs with little loss of intracellular contents.
Analysis of plasma membrane repair in the sea urchin egg and early embryos revealed a new model of the mechanism for plasma membrane repair. Resealing of disrupted plasma membranes required external Ca2+ that could be antagonised by Mg2+. Block of Ca2+/calmodulin kinase II, which regulates exocytotic vesicle availability at synapses (Llinás et al., 1991), inhibited membrane resealing. Resealing was also inhibited by botulinum neurotoxins A, B, C1, and tetanus toxin, which disrupt SNARE vesicle docking/fusion proteins. Confocal microscopic observations of exocytotic events in sea urchin eggs and embryos during membrane resealing showed that inhibition of kinesin or myosin motor activity, which are believed to be required for vesicle transport (Goodson et al., 1997), also inhibited membrane resealing and delivery of vesicles to sites of membrane disruption. This pattern of inhibition indicates that membrane repair of micrometre-sized lesions requires vesicle delivery, docking and fusion, similar to the exocytosis of neurotransmitter (Steinhardt et al., 1994; Bi et al., 1995, 1997).
The mechanism of resealing in eggs and embyros was found to be a general property of all cells (Steinhardt et al., 1994; Togo et al., 1999). It is now known that elevated intracellular Ca2+ triggers exocytosis in various types of cells (Dan & Poo, 1992; Coorssen et al., 1996), and that endosomal compartments such as lysosomes can behave as Ca2+-regulated exocytotic vesicles (Rodríguez et al., 1997).