Time-resolved admittance measurements were used to follow formation of individual fusion pores connecting influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA)-expressing cells to planar bilayer membranes. By measuring in-phase, out-of-phase, and dc components of currents, pore conductances were resolved with millisecond time resolution. Fusion pores developed in stages, from small pores flickering open and closed, to small successful pores that remained open until enlarging their lumens to sizes greater than those of viral nucleocapsids. The kinetics of fusion and the properties of fusion pores were studied as functions of density of the fusion protein HA. The consequences of treating cell surfaces with proteases that do not affect HA were also investigated. Fusion kinetics were described by waiting time distributions from triggering fusion, by lowering pH, to the moment of pore formation. The kinetics of pore formation became faster as the density of active HA was made greater or when cell surface proteins were extensively cleaved with proteases. In accord with this faster kinetics, the intervals between transient pore openings within the flickering stage were shorter for higher HA density and more extensive cell surface treatment. Whereas the kinetics of fusion depended on HA density, the lifetimes of open fusion pores were independent of HA density. However, the lifetimes of open pores were affected by the proteolytic treatment of the cells. Faster fusion kinetics correlated with shorter pore openings. We conclude that the density of fusion protein strongly affects the kinetics of fusion pore formation, but that once formed, pore evolution is not under control of fusion proteins but rather under the influence of mechanical forces, such as membrane bending and tension.

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