Fusion of individual human erythrocytes to fibroblasts expressing the influenza virus hemagglutinin Cells were attached to coverslips fitted in a specially designed flow chamber mounted on a microscope stage, and fusion was triggered by rapid acidification to pH less than 5.2. Fusion between single cell pairs was monitored by a fluorescence increase due to redistribution of fluorescent dyes between either membrane or cytoplasmic compartments of fusing cells. The single cell fusion events were broadly heterogenous in lag times, rise times, and overall shape of the curves. Lag times obtained with a water-soluble dye were within the range obtained with a water-soluble dye were within the range obtained with the membrane-bound fluorophores, (10-160 s). Fusion was both all-or-nothing and irreversible, in that once dye redistribution in any cell commenced, it completed, regardless of pH. Short pulses of pH 4.9 for 6-10 s led to about half of the cell pairs fusing, but pulses greater than 14 s were as effective as constant low pH. Pulses that were too short to trigger fusion did not partially activate nor deactivate the fusion process, as shown by the ability of a second acidification to cause fusion of the same cells, with similar lag times. These results indicate that the overall hemagglutinin-mediated fusion process is composed of at least two stages, one required for commitment of the hemagglutinin to a fusogenic state that is pH-dependent and a maturation stage that is pH-independent.