Synapsin I is a major neuron-specific phosphoprotein that is specifically localized to the cytoplasmic surface of small synaptic vesicles. In the present study, the binding of synapsin I to small synaptic vesicles was characterized in detail. The binding of synapsin I was preserved when synaptic vesicles were solubilized and reconstituted in phosphatidylcholine. After separation of the protein and lipid components of synaptic vesicles under nondenaturing conditions, synapsin I bound to both components. The use of hydrophobic labeling procedures allowed the assessment of interactions between phospholipids and synapsin I in intact synaptic vesicles. Hydrophobic photolabeling followed by cysteine-specific cleavage of synapsin I demonstrated that the head domain of synapsin I penetrates into the hydrophobic core of the bilayer. The purified NH2-terminal fragment, derived from the head domain by cysteine-specific cleavage, bound to synaptic vesicles with high affinity confirming the results obtained from hydrophobic photolabeling. Synapsin I binding to synaptic vesicles could be inhibited by the entire molecule or by the combined presence of the NH2-terminal and tail fragments, but not by an excess of either NH2-terminal or tail fragment alone. The purified tail fragment bound with relatively high affinity to synaptic vesicles, though it did not significantly interact with phospholipids. Binding of the tail fragment was competed by holosynapsin I; was greatly decreased by phosphorylation; and was abolished by high ionic strength conditions or protease treatment of synaptic vesicles. The data suggest the existence of two sites of interaction between synapsin I and small synaptic vesicles: binding of the head domain to vesicle phospholipids and of the tail domain to a protein component of the vesicle membrane. The latter interaction is apparently responsible for the salt and phosphorylation dependency of synapsin I binding to small synaptic vesicles.

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