Cells expressing wild-type influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA) or HA with a point mutation within the transmembrane domain (G520L) were bound to red blood cells and exposed to low pH for short times at suboptimal temperatures followed by reneutralization. This produced intermediate states of fusion. The ability of intermediate states to proceed on to fusion when temperature was raised was compared kinetically. In general, for wild-type HA, fusion occurred more quickly by directly lowering pH at 37 degrees C in the bound state than by raising temperature at the intermediate stage. When pH was lowered for 1-2 min, kinetics of fusion upon raising temperature of an intermediate slowed the longer the intermediate was maintained at neutral pH. But for a more sustained (10 min) acidification, kinetics was independent of the time the intermediate was held at neutral pH before triggering fusion by raising temperature. In contrast, generating intermediates in the same way with G520L yielded kinetics of fusion that did not depend on the time intermediates were maintained after reneutralization. For both HA and G520L, the extents of fusion did not depend on the temperature at which pH was lowered, but fusion from the intermediate was extremely sensitive to the temperature to which the cells were raised. The measured kinetics and temperature dependencies suggest that the rate-limiting step of fusion occurs subsequent to formation of any of the intermediates; the conformational change of HA into its final configuration may be the rate-limiting step.