A conserved histidine in the ij loop of the Semliki Forest virus E1 protein plays an important role in membrane fusion

Chantal Chanel-Vos, Margaret Kielian

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22 Scopus citations


The enveloped alphavirus Semliki Forest virus (SFY) infects cells via a low pH-triggered membrane fusion reaction mediated by the E1 protein. E1 is a class II fusion protein that contains the hydrophobic fusion peptide loop and converts to a stable homotrimer during the fusion reaction. Intriguingly, the fusion loop is closely associated with a loop connecting the i and j β-strands. This ij loop plays a role in the cholesterol dependence of membrane fusion and is specifically susceptible to proteolysis in the protease-resistant E1 homotrimer. The SFV ij loop contains a histidine residue at position 230. Sequence comparisons revealed that an analogous histidine is completely conserved in all alphavirus and flavivirus fusion proteins. An E1 H230A mutant was constructed using the SFV infectious clone. Although cells infected with H230A RNA produced virus particles, these virions were completely noninfectious and were blocked in both cell-cell fusion and lipid mixing assays. The H230A virions efficiently bound to cell surface receptors and responded to low pH by undergoing acid-dependent conformational changes including dissociation of the E1/E2 dimer, exposure of the fusion loop, association with target liposomes, exposure of acid-conformation-specific epitopes, and formation of the stable E1 homotrimer. Studies with a soluble fragment of E1 showed that the mutant protein was defective in lipid-dependent conformational changes. Our results indicate that the E1 ij loop and the conserved H230 residue play a critical role in alphavirus-membrane fusion and suggest the presence of a previously undescribed late intermediate in the fusion reaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13543-13552
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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