The enveloped alphaviruses infect cells via a low-pH-triggered membrane fusion reaction mediated by the viral transmembrane protein E1. During fusion, E1 inserts into the target membrane and refolds to a hairpin-like postfusion conformation in which domain III (DIII) and the juxtamembrane stem pack against a central core trimer. Although zinc has previously been shown to cause a striking block in alphavirus fusion with liposome target membranes, the mechanism of zinc's effect on the E1 fusion protein is not understood. Here we developed a cell culture system to study zinc inhibition of fusion and infection of the alphavirus Semliki Forest virus (SFV). Inclusion of 2 mM ZnCl2 in the pH 5.75 fusion buffer caused a decrease of~5 logs in SFV fusion at the plasma membrane. Fusion was also inhibited by nickel, a chemically related transition metal. Selection for SFV zinc resistance identified a key histidine residue, H333 on E1 DIII, while other conserved E1 histidine residues were not involved. An H333N mutation conferred resistance to both zinc and nickel, with properties in keeping with the known pH-dependent chelation of these metals by histidine. Biochemical studies demonstrated that zinc strongly inhibits formation of the postfusion E1 trimer in wild-type SFV but not in an H333 mutant. Together our results suggest that zinc acts by blocking the fold-back of DIII via its interaction with H333.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science