Treatment of erythrocyte ghosts in random positions in a suspension with membrane fusion-inducing direct current electric field pulses causes the membranes to become fusogenic. Significant fusion yields are observed if the membranes are dielectrophoretically aligned into membrane-membrane contact with a weak alternating electric field as much as 5 min after the application of the pulses. This demonstrates that a long-lived membrane structural alteration is involved in this fusion mechanism. Other experiments indicate that the areas on the membrane which become fusogenic after treatment with the pulses may be very highly localized. The locations of these fusogenic areas coincide with where the trans-membrane electric field strength was greatest during the pulse. The fusogenic membrane alteration, or components thereof, in these areas laterally diffuses very slowly or not at all, or, to be fusogenic, must be present at concentrations in the membrane above a certain threshold. The loss of soluble 0.9-3-nm-diameter fluorescent probes from resealed cytoplasmic compartments of randomly positioned erythrocyte ghosts occurs through electric field pulse-induced pores only during a pulse but not between pulses or after a train of pulses if the probe diameter is 1.2 nm or greater. For a given pulse treatment of membranes in random positions in suspensions, an increase in ionic strength of the medium results in (a) a decrease in loss during the pulse, (b) no difference in loss between pulses, and (c) an increase in fusion yield when membrane-membrane contact is established. The latter two results (b and c) are incompatible with a fusion mechanism that proposes a simple relationship between electric field-induced pores and fusion.

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