Starting from fertilization, through tissue growth, hormone secretion, synaptic transmission, and sometimes morbid events of carcinogenesis and viral infections, membrane fusion regulates the whole life of high organisms. Despite that, a lot of fusion processes still lack well-established models and even a list of main actors. A merger of membranes requires their topological rearrangements controlled by elastic properties of a lipid bilayer. That is why continuum models based on theories of membrane elasticity are actively applied for the construction of physical models of membrane fusion. Started from the view on the membrane as a structureless film with postulated geometry of fusion intermediates, they developed along with experimental and computational techniques to a powerful tool for prediction of the whole process with molecular accuracy. In the present review, focusing on fusion processes occurring in eukaryotic cells, we scrutinize the history of these models, their evolution and complication, as well as open questions and remaining theoretical problems. We show that modern approaches in this field allow continuum models of membrane fusion to stand shoulder to shoulder with molecular dynamics simulations, and provide the deepest understanding of this process in multiple biological systems.
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