Alphaviruses are small enveloped RNA viruses that infect cells via clathrin-mediated endocytosis and low-pH-triggered fusion in the early endosome. Using a small interfering RNA (siRNA) screen in human cells, we previously identified TSPAN9 as a host factor that promotes infection by the alphaviruses Sindbis virus (SINV), Semliki Forest virus (SFV), and chikungunya virus (CHIKV). Depletion of TSPAN9 specifically decreases SFV membrane fusion in endosomes. TSPAN9 is a member of the tetraspanin family of multipass membrane proteins, but its cellular function is currently unknown. Here we used U-2 OS cells stably overexpressing TSPAN9 to show that TSPAN9 is localized at the plasma membrane and in early and late endosomes. Internalized SFV particles colocalized with TSPAN9 in vesicles early during infection. Depletion of TSPAN9 led to reductions in the amounts of the late endosomal proteins LAMP1 and CD63 and an increase in the amount of LAMP2. However, TSPAN9 depletion did not alter the delivery of SFV to early endosomes or change their pH or protease activity. Comparative studies showed that TSPAN9 depletion strongly inhibited infection by several viruses that fuse in early endosomes (SFV, SINV, CHIKV, and vesicular stomatitis virus [VSV]), while viruses that fuse in the late endosome (recombinant VSV-Lassa and VSV-Junin), including an SFV point mutant with a lower pH threshold for fusion (SFV E2 T12I), were relatively resistant. Our data suggest that TSPAN9 modulates the early endosome compartment to make it more permissive for membrane fusion of early-penetrating viruses.
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