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Virology. 1999 May 10;257(2):472-82.

The isolation of the ectodomain of the alphavirus E1 protein as a soluble hemagglutinin and its crystallization.

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Institut für Virologie, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Giessen, 35392, Germany.


Alphaviruses are isometric enveloped viruses approximately 70 nm in diameter. The viral surface contains 80 glycoprotein spikes arranged in a T = 4 lattice. Each of these spikes consists of three heterodimers of the viral membrane proteins E1 (approximately 49 kDa) and E2 (approximately 51 kDa). Cryoelectron microscopic analyses have shown that the spikes form a protein shell on the viral surface. We have made an attempt to isolate biologically active protein fragments from this surface and to grow crystals from such fragments. To this end membrane proteins were extracted with Nonidet-P40 from the Semliki Forest alphavirus and the proteins were separated from detergent by centrifugation. A protein complex containing the E1 and E2 molecules in quantitative yield was obtained by this procedure. This complex has the following properties: It sediments at approximately 30S, it chromatographs with an apparent molecular mass of approximately 580,000 Da during gel filtration, it cannot be dissociated by either nonionic detergents or 6 M urea, and at acid pH it is a highly active hemagglutinin. The data indicate that this 30S hemagglutinin complex, which has not been hitherto described for alphaviruses, may represent a variant form of the protein lattice present on the alphavirus surface. Cleavage of this complex by subtilisin selectively removes carboxy-terminal sequences from the E1 and E2 proteins, which contain the cytoplasmic and transmembrane segments of the proteins and a small part of their ectodomain. The remaining ectodomains are called E1DeltaS and E2DeltaS. This proteolysis also leads to dissociation of the 30S complex. The cleavage products accumulate in the form of a heterodimer of the E1DeltaS and E2DeltaS proteins. Treatment of the heterodimer with PNGase F leads to rapid removal of carbohydrate from the E2DeltaS protein and a dissociation of the complex into the constituent molecules, which can be separated by chromatography. The finding that the heterodimer and the purified E1DeltaS protein both function as hemagglutinin at acid pH indicates that the E1 protein represents the alphavirus hemagglutinin. We have obtained crystals of the E1DeltaS protein and are currently in the process of determining the atomic structure of this protein by the isomorphous replacement method.

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