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J Virol. 2002 Oct;76(19):9673-85.

Relationship between SU subdomains that regulate the receptor-mediated transition from the native (fusion-inhibited) to the fusion-active conformation of the murine leukemia virus glycoprotein.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Vectorologie Rétrovirale et Thérapie Génique, INSERM U412, IFR 74, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, Lyon, France.


Envelope glycoproteins (Env) of retroviruses are trimers of SU (surface) and TM (transmembrane) heterodimers and are expressed on virions in fusion-competent forms that are likely to be metastable. Activation of the viral receptor-binding domain (RBD) via its interaction with a cell surface receptor is thought to initiate a cascade of events that lead to refolding of the Env glycoprotein into its stable fusion-active conformation. While the fusion-active conformation of the TM subunit has been described in detail for several retroviruses, little is known about the fusion-competent structure of the retroviral glycoproteins or the molecular events that mediate the transition between the two conformations. By characterizing Env chimeras between the ecotropic and amphotropic murine leukemia virus (MLV) SUs as well as a set of point mutants, we show that alterations of the conformation of the SU glycoprotein strongly elevate Env fusogenicity by disrupting the stability of the Env complex. Compensatory mutations that restored both Env stability and fusion control were also identified, allowing definition of interactions within the Env complex that maintain the stability of the native Env complex. We show that, in the receptor-unbound form, structural interactions between the N terminus of the viral RBD (NTR domain), the proline-rich region (PRR), and the distal part of the C-terminal domain of the SU subunit maintain a conformation of the glycoprotein that is fusion inhibitory. Additionally, we identified mutations that disrupt this fusion-inhibitory conformation and allow fusion activation in the absence of viral receptors, provided that receptor-activated RBD fragments are added in trans during infection. Other mutations were identified that allow fusion activation in the absence of receptors for both the viral glycoprotein and the trans-acting RBD. Finally, we found mutations of the SU that bypass in cis the requirement for the NTR domain in fusion activation. All these different mutations call for a critical role of the PRR in mediating conformational changes of the Env glycoprotein during fusion activation. Our results suggest a model of MLV Env fusion activation in which unlocking of the fusion-inhibitory conformation is initiated by receptor binding of the viral RBD, which, upon disruption of the PRR, allows the NTR domain to promote further events in Env fusion activation. This involves a second type of interaction, in cis or in trans, between the receptor-activated RBD and a median segment of the freed C-terminal domain.

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