Membrane permeability changes at early stages of influenza hemagglutinin-mediated fusion. Academic Article uri icon


  • While biological membrane fusion is classically defined as the leak-free merger of membranes and contents, leakage is a finding in both experimental and theoretical studies. The fusion stages, if any, that allow membrane permeation are uncharted. In this study we monitored membrane ionic permeability at early stages of fusion mediated by the fusogenic protein influenza hemagglutinin (HA). HAb2 cells, expressing HA on their plasma membrane, fused with human red blood cells, cultured liver cells PLC/PRF/5, or planar phospholipid bilayer membranes. With a probability that depended upon the target membrane, an increase of the electrical conductance of the fusing membranes (leakage) by up to several nS was generally detected. This leakage was recorded at the initial stages of fusion, when fusion pores formed. This leakage usually accompanied the "flickering" stage of the early fusion pore development. As the pore widened, the leakage reduced; concomitantly, the lipid exchange between the fusing membranes accelerated. We conclude that during fusion pore formation, HA locally and temporarily increases the permeability of fusing membranes. Subsequent rearrangement in the fusion complex leads to the resealing of the leaky membranes and enlargement of the pore.

publication date

  • September 2003