Role of spike protein conformational changes in fusion of Semliki Forest virus

J. Justman, M. R. Klimjack, M. Kielian

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61 Scopus citations


The alphavirus Semliki Forest virus (SFV) and a number of other enveloped animal viruses infect cells via a membrane fusion reaction triggered by the low pH within endocytic vesicles. In addition to having a low pH requirement, SFV fusion and infection are also strictly dependent on the presence of cholesterol in the host cell membrane. A number of conformational changes in the SFV spike protein occur following low-pH treatment, including dissociation of the E1-E2 dimer, conformational changes in the E1 and E2 subunits, and oligomerization of E1 to a homotrimer. To allow the ordering of these events, we have compared the kinetics of these conformational changes with those of fusion, using pH treatment near the fusion threshold and low- temperature incubation to slow the fusion reaction. Dimer dissociation, the E1 conformational change, and E1 trimerization all occur prior to the mixing of virus and cell membranes. Studies of cells incubated at 20°C showed that as with virus fusion, E1 trimerization occurred in the endosome before transport to lysosomes. However, unlike the strictly cholesterol-dependent membrane fusion reaction, the E1 homotrimer was produced in vivo during virus uptake by cholesterol-depleted cells or in vitro by low-pH treatment of virus in the presence of artificial liposomes with or without cholesterol. Purified, lipid-free spike protein rosettes were assayed to determine the requirement for virus membrane cholesterol in E1 homotrimer formation. Spike protein rosettes were found to undergo E1 oligomerization upon exposure to low pH and target liposomes and showed an enhancement of oligomerization with cholesterol-containing membranes. The E1 homotrimer may represent a prefusion complex that requires cholesterol to carry out the final coalescence of the viral and target membranes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7597-7607
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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