In certain conditions, human red cell membranes spontaneously form inside out vesicles within 20 min after hypotonic lysis. Study of the geometry of this process now reveals that, contrary to earlier views of vesiculation by endocytosis or by the mechanical shearing of cytoskeleton-depleted membrane, lysis generates a persistent membrane edge which spontaneously curls, cuts, and splices the membrane surface to form single or concentric vesicles. Analysis of the processes by which proteins may stabilize a free membrane edge led us to formulate a novel zip-type mechanism for membrane cutting-splicing and fusion even in the absence of free edges. Such protein-led membrane fusion represents an alternative to mechanisms of membrane fusion based on phospholipid interactions, and may prove relevant to processes of secretion, endocytosis, phagocytosis, and membrane recycling in many cell types.

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