Phospholipid vesicles fuse with a planar membrane when they are osmotically swollen. Channels in the vesicle membrane are required for swelling to occur when the vesicle-containing compartment is made hyperosmotic by adding a solute (termed an osmotican0. We have studied fusion using two different channels, porin, a highly permeable channel, and nystatin, a much less permeable channel. We report that an osmoticant’s ability to support fusion (defined as the magnitude of osmotic gradient necessary to obtain sustained fusion) depends on both its permeability through lipid bilayer as well as its permeability through the channel by which it enters the vesicle interior. With porin as the channel, formamide requires an osmotic gradient about ten times that required with urea, which is ~1/40th as permeant as formamide through bare lipid membrane. When nystatin is the channel, however, fusion rates sustained by osmotic gradients of formamide are within a factor of two of those obtained with urea. Vesicles containing a porinimpermeant solute can be induced to swell and fuse with a planar membrane when the impermeant bathing the vesicles is replaced by an isosmotic quantity of a porin-permeant solute. With this method of swelling, formamide is as effective as urea in obtaining fusion. In addition, we report that binding of vesicles to the planar membrane does not make the contact region more permeable to the osmoticant than is bare lipid bilayer. In the companion paper, we quantitively account for the observation that the ability of a solute to promote fusion depends on its permeability properties and the method of swelling. We show that the intravesicular pressure developed drives fusion.
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