The GTP switch of the small G-protein Arf1 (ADP-ribosylation factor 1) on lipid membranes promotes the polymerization of the COPI (coat protein complex I) coat, which acts as a membrane deforming shell to form transport vesicles. Real-time measurements for coat assembly on liposomes gives insights into how the GTPase cycle of Arf1 is coupled in time with the polymerization of the COPI coat and the resulting membrane deformation. One key parameter seems to be the membrane curvature. Arf-GAP1 (where GAP stands for GTPase-activating protein), which promotes GTP hydrolysis in the Arf1–COPI complex is highly sensitive to lipid packing. Its activity on Arf1-GTP increases by two orders of magnitude as the diameter of the liposomes approaches that of authentic transport vesicles (60 nm). This suggests that during membrane budding, Arf1-GTP molecules are progressively eliminated from the coated area where the membrane curvature is positive, but are protected from Arf-GAP1 at the bud neck due to the negative curvature of this region. As a result, the coat should be stable as long as the bud remains attached and should disassemble as soon as membrane fission occurs.

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