The response of lipid bilayers to osmotic stress is an important part of cellular function. Recent experimental studies showed that when cell-sized giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs) are exposed to hypotonic media, they respond to the osmotic assault by undergoing a cyclical sequence of swelling and bursting events, coupled to the membrane's compositional degrees of freedom. Here, we establish a fundamental and quantitative understanding of the essential pulsatile behavior of GUVs under hypotonic conditions by advancing a comprehensive theoretical model of vesicle dynamics. The model quantitatively captures the experimentally measured swell-burst parameters for single-component GUVs, and reveals that thermal fluctuations enable rate-dependent pore nucleation, driving the dynamics of the swell-burst cycles. We further extract constitutional scaling relationships between the pulsatile dynamics and GUV properties over multiple timescales. Our findings provide a fundamental framework that has the potential to guide future investigations on the nonequilibrium dynamics of vesicles under osmotic stress.
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