The kinetics of pore formation followed by mechanical rupture of lipid bilayer membranes were investigated in detail by using the charge-pulse method. Membranes of various compositions were charged to a sufficiently high voltage to induce mechanical breakdown. The subsequent decrease of membrane voltage was used to calculate the conductance. During mechanical breakdown, which was probably caused by the widening of one single pore, the membrane conductance was a linear and not exponential function of time after the initial starting process. In a large number of experiments using various lipids and electrolytes, the characteristic opening process of the pore turned out to be independent of the actual membrane potential and electrolyte concentration. Our theoretical analysis of the pore formation suggested that the voltage-induced irreversible breakdown is due to a decrease in edge energy when the pore had formed. After initiation of the pore, the electrical contribution to surface tension is negligible. The time course of the increase of pore size shows that our model of the irreversible breakdown is in good agreement with mechanical properties of membranes reported elsewhere. © 1993, The Biophysical Society. All rights reserved.
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