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J Virol. 2011 Sep;85(17):8495-501. doi: 10.1128/JVI.05129-11. Epub 2011 Jun 22.

Mutational analysis of the zippering reaction during flavivirus membrane fusion.

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  • 1Department of Virology, Medical University of Vienna, Kinderspitalgasse 15, 1095 Vienna, Austria.


The current model of flavivirus membrane fusion is based on atomic structures of truncated forms of the viral fusion protein E in its dimeric prefusion and trimeric postfusion conformations. These structures lack the two transmembrane domains (TMDs) of E as well as the so-called stem, believed to be involved in an intra- and intermolecular zippering reaction within the E trimer during the fusion process. In order to gain experimental evidence for the functional role of the stem in flavivirus membrane fusion, we performed a mutagenesis study with recombinant subviral particles (RSPs) of tick-borne encephalitis virus, which have fusion properties similar to those of whole infectious virions and are an established model for viral fusion. Mutations were introduced into the stem as well as that part of E predicted to interact with the stem during zippering, and the effect of these mutations was analyzed with respect to fusion peptide interactions with target cells, E protein trimerization, trimer stability, and membrane fusion in an in vitro liposome fusion assay. Our data provide evidence for a molecular interaction between a conserved phenylalanine at the N-terminal end of the stem and a pocket in domain II of E, which appears to be essential for the positioning of the stem in an orientation that allows zippering and the formation of a structure in which the TMDs can interact as required for efficient fusion.

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