Alphaviruses such as Semliki Forest virus (SFV) are enveloped viruses whose surface is covered by an organized lattice composed of trimers of E2-E1 heterodimers. The E1 envelope protein, a class II fusion protein, contains the hydrophobic fusion loop and refolds to drive virus fusion with the endosome membrane. The E2 protein is synthesized as a precursor p62, whose processing by furin primes the heterodimer for dissociation during virus entry. Dissociation of the E2-E1 heterodimer is an essential step during low-pH-triggered fusion, while the dissociation of the immature p62-E1 dimer is relatively pH resistant. Previous structural studies described an "acid-sensitive region" in E2 that becomes disordered at low pH. Within this region, the conserved E2 H170 is in position to form a hydrogen bond with the underlying E1 S57. Here we experimentally tested the role of this interaction in regulating dimer dissociation in mature and immature virus. Alanine substitutions of E1 S57 and E2 H170 destabilized the heterodimer and produced a higher pH threshold for exposure of the E1 fusion loop and for fusion of the immature virus. E1 S57K or S57D mutations were lethal and caused transport and assembly defects that were partially abrogated by neutralization of the exocytic pathway. The lethal phenotype of E1 S57K was rescued by second-site mutations at E2 H170/M171. Together, our results define a key role for the E1 S57-E2 H170 interaction in dimer stability and the pH dependence of fusion and provide evidence for stepwise dissociation of the E2-E1 dimer at low pH.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science