The effects of membrane tension on fusion between cells expressing the hemagglutinin (HA) of influenza virus and red blood cells were studied by capacitance measurements. Inflation of an HA-expressing cell was achieved by applying a positive hydrostatic pressure to its interior through a patch- clamp pipette in the whole-cell configuration. Inflating cells to the maximum extent possible without lysis created a membrane tension and completely inhibited low-pH-induced fusion at room temperature. Fully inflated cells that were subsequently deflated to normal size resumed the ability to fuse in response to low pH. At the higher temperature of 32°C, fusion conditions were sufficiently optimal that full inflation did not hinder fusion, and once formed, pores enlarged more rapidly than those of never inflated cells. It is suggested that under fusogenic conditions HA causes the formation of a dimple within the membrane in which it resides, and that membrane tension hinders fusion by preventing the formation of dimples. Because dimpling bends the bilayer portion of bound membranes so that they come into intimate contact, the damping of dimpling would suppress this initial step in the fusion process.
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