An alphavirus E2 membrane-proximal domain promotes envelope protein lateral interactions and virus budding

Emily A. Byrd, Margaret Kielian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Alphaviruses are members of a group of small enveloped RNA viruses that includes important human pathogens such as Chikungunya virus and the equine encephalitis viruses. The virus membrane is covered by a lattice composed of 80 spikes, each a trimer of heterodimers of the E2 and E1 transmembrane proteins. During virus endocytic entry, the E1 glycoprotein mediates the low-pH-dependent fusion of the virus membrane with the endosome membrane, thus initiating virus infection. While much is known about E1 structural rearrangements during membrane fusion, it is unclear how the E1/E2 dimer dissociates, a step required for the fusion reaction. A recent Alphavirus cryo-electron microscopy reconstruction revealed a previously unidentified D subdomain in the E2 ectodomain, close to the virus membrane. A loop within this region, here referred to as the D-loop, contains two highly conserved histidines, H348 and H352, which were hypothesized to play a role in dimer dissociation. We generated Semliki Forest virus mutants containing the single and double alanine substitutions H348A, H352A, and H348/352A. The three D-loop mutations caused a reduction in virus growth ranging from 1.6 to 2 log but did not significantly affect structural protein biosynthesis or transport, dimer stability, virus fusion, or specific infectivity. Instead, growth reduction was due to inhibition of a late stage of virus assembly at the plasma membrane. The virus particles that are produced show reduced thermostability compared to the wild type. We propose the E2 D-loop as a key region in establishing the E1-E2 contacts that drive glycoprotein lattice formation and promote Alphavirus budding from the plasma membrane. IMPORTANCE Alphavirus infection causes severe and debilitating human diseases for which there are no effective antiviral therapies or vaccines. In order to develop targeted therapeutics, detailed molecular understanding of the viral entry and exit mechanisms is required. In this report, we define the role of the E2 protein juxtamembrane D-loop, which contains highly conserved histidine residues at positions 348 and 352. These histidines do not play an important role in virus fusion and infection. However, mutation of the D-loop histidines causes significant decreases in the assembly and thermostability of Alphavirus particles. Our results suggest that the E2 D-loop interacts with the E1 protein to promote Alphavirus budding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01564-17
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Alphavirus
  • Virus assembly
  • Virus budding
  • Virus entry
  • Virus fusion
  • Virus structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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