Enveloped animal viruses infect cells via fusion of the viral membrane with a host cell membrane. Fusion is mediated by a viral envelope glycoprotein, which for a number of enveloped animal viruses rearranges itself during fusion to form a trimeric α-helical coiled-coil structure. This conformational change from the metastable, nonfusogenic form of the spike protein to the highly stable form involved in fusion can be induced by physiological activators of virus fusion and also by a variety of destabilizing conditions. The E1 spike protein subunit of Semliki Forest virus (SFV) triggers membrane fusion upon exposure to mildly acidic pH and forms a homotrimer that appears necessary for fusion. We have here demonstrated that formation of the E1 homotrimer was efficiently triggered under low-pH conditions but not by perturbants such as heat or urea, despite their induction of generalized conformational changes in the E1 and E2 subunits and partial exposure of an acid-specific E1 epitope. We used a sensitive fluorescence assay to show that neither heat nor urea treatment triggered SFV-liposome fusion at neutral pH, although either treatment inactivated subsequent low-pH-triggered fusion activity. Once formed, the low-pH-induced E1 homotrimer was very stable and was only dissociated under harsh conditions such as heating in sodium dodecyl sulfate. Taken together, these data, as well as protein structure predictions, suggest a model in which the less stable native E1 subunit specifically responds to low pH to form the more stable E1 homotrimer via conformational changes different from those of the coiled-coil type of fusion proteins.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science