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J Virol. Jan 1995; 69(1): 469–475.
PMCID: PMC188595

The 6-kilodalton membrane protein of Semliki Forest virus is involved in the budding process.


Alphavirus genomes encode a small hydrophobic protein of 6 kDa (the 6K protein) that is expressed as part of a large polyprotein containing the sequences of the two virus transmembranal glycoproteins which form the spikes of the infectious particle. Although made in amounts equivalent to those of the glycoproteins, very little of the 6K protein is found in secreted infectious virions. The role of this protein in virus replication and structure has been studied by use of a variety of mutationally altered forms of 6K, which yield phenotypically distinct viruses. A complete deletion of the gene encoding the 6K protein (delta 6K) of Semliki Forest Virus (SFV) has been constructed from an SFV infectious cDNA and the transcribed RNA-produced progeny virus that closely resembled the normal virus (P. Liljeström, S. Lusa, D. Huylebroeck, and H. Garoff, J. Virol. 65:4107-4113, 1991). Further studies of this mutant have now been performed, and they show that growth of delta 6K has a strong dependency on its host cell, varying from 2 to 50% of the rate of formation of the wild-type SFV. Mammalian cells are much more defective than insect and avian cells in replication of the delta 6K mutant. This mutant is not defective in formation and transport of the glycoproteins or in production of nucleocapsids, which accumulate at the plasma cell membrane in infected BHK cells. The major defect, thus, is in the final assembly and budding of new virus. In BHK cells infected with the delta 6K strain, a relatively large fraction of the total infectious virus formed can be recovered by osmotic lysis of exhaustively washed cells. Infectious SFV totally lacking 6K is identical to wild-type SFV in the early stages of virus replication, i.e., binding and uptake. The particles themselves are more thermolabile than those of wild-type SFV, suggesting that the 6K protein may be a part of the structure of wild-type virus or that the slower budding leads to an altered configuration of the trimeric spikes. These data support other studies that implicate the 6K protein as an important but nonessential component in the assembly and budding of the alphavirus particle, perhaps by affecting the packing of the glycoproteins and their interactions with membrane lipid.

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Selected References

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