Cell-cell fusion in sexually reproducing organisms is a mechanism to merge gamete genomes and, in multicellular organisms, it is a strategy to sculpt organs, such as muscle, bone, and placenta. Moreover, this mechanism has been implicated in pathological conditions, such as infection and cancer. Studies of genetic model organisms have uncovered a unifying principle: cell fusion is a genetically programmed process. This process can be divided in three stages: competence (cell induction and differentiation); commitment (cell determination, migration, and adhesion); and cell fusion (membrane merging and cytoplasmic mixing). Recent work has led to the discovery of fusogens, which are cell fusion proteins that are necessary and sufficient to fuse cell membranes. Two unrelated families of fusogens have been discovered, one in mouse placenta and one in Caenorhabditis elegans (syncytins and F proteins, respectively). Current research aims to identify new fusogens and determine the mechanisms by which they merge membranes.
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