The alphavirus Semliki Forest virus (SFV) infects cells through a low-pH-dependent membrane fusion reaction mediated by the virus fusion protein E1. Acidic pH initiates a series of E1 conformational changes that culminate in membrane fusion and include dissociation of the E1/E2 heterodimer, insertion of the E1 fusion loop into the target membrane, and refolding of E1 to a stable trimeric hairpin conformation. A highly conserved histidine (H3) on the E1 protein was previously shown to promote low-pH-dependent E1 refolding. An SFV mutant with an alanine substitution at this position (H3A) has a lower pH threshold and reduced efficiency of virus fusion and E1 trimer formation than wild-type SFV. Here we addressed the mechanism by which H3 promotes E1 refolding and membrane fusion. We identified E1 mutations that rescue the H3A defect. These revertants implicated a network of interactions that connect the domain I-domain III (DI-DIII) linker region with the E1 core trimer, including H3. In support of the importance of these interactions, mutation of residues in the network resulted in more acidic pH thresholds and reduced efficiencies of membrane fusion. In vitro studies of truncated E1 proteins demonstrated that the DI-DIII linker was required for production of a stable E1 core trimer on target membranes. Together, our results suggest a critical and previously unidentified role for the DI-DIII linker region during the low-pH-dependent refolding of E1 that drives membrane fusion.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science