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J Virol. 1999 Jul;73(7):5605-12.

Mapping of functional elements in the stem-anchor region of tick-borne encephalitis virus envelope protein E.

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Institute of Virology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


Envelope protein E of the flavivirus tick-borne encephalitis virus mediates membrane fusion, and the structure of the N-terminal 80% of this 496-amino-acid-long protein has been shown to differ significantly from that of other viral fusion proteins. The structure of the carboxy-terminal 20%, the stem-anchor region, is not known. It contains sequences that are important for membrane anchoring, interactions with prM (the precursor of membrane protein M) during virion assembly, and low-pH-induced structural changes associated with the fusion process. To identify specific functional elements in this region, a series of C-terminal deletion mutants were constructed and the properties of the resulting truncated recombinant E proteins were examined. Full-length E proteins and proteins lacking the second of two predicted transmembrane segments were secreted in a particulate form when coexpressed with prM, whereas deletion of both segments resulted in the secretion of soluble homodimeric E proteins. Sites located within a predicted alpha-helical region of the stem (amino acids 431 to 449) and the first membrane-spanning region (amino acids 450 to 472) were found to be important for the stability of the prM-E heterodimer but not essential for prM-mediated intracellular transport and secretion of soluble E proteins. A separate site in the stem, also corresponding to a predicted alpha-helix (amino acids 401 to 413), was essential for the conversion of soluble protein E dimers to a homotrimeric form upon low-pH treatment, a process resembling the transition to the fusogenic state in whole virions. This functional mapping will aid in the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of membrane fusion and virus assembly.

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