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Biochemistry. 1999 Nov 9;38(45):15052-9.

Interaction of mutant influenza virus hemagglutinin fusion peptides with lipid bilayers: probing the role of hydrophobic residue size in the central region of the fusion peptide.

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Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics and Center for Structural Biology, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Box 10011, Charlottesville, Virginia 22906-0011, USA.


The amino-terminal region of the membrane-anchored subunit of influenza virus hemagglutinin, the fusion peptide, is crucial for membrane fusion of this virus. The peptide is extruded from the interior of the protein and inserted into the lipid bilayer of the target membrane upon induction of a conformational change in the protein by low pH. Although the effects of several mutations in this region on the fusion behavior and the biophysical properties of the corresponding peptides have been studied, the structural requirements for an active fusion peptide have still not been defined. To probe the sensitivity of the fusion peptide structure and function to small hydrophobic perturbations in the middle of the hydrophobic region, we have individually replaced the alanine residues in positions 5 and 7 with smaller (glycine) or bulkier (valine) hydrophobic residues and measured the extent of fusion mediated by these hemagglutinin constructs as well as some biophysical properties of the corresponding synthetic peptides in lipid bilayers. We find that position 5 tolerates a smaller and position 7 a larger hydrophobic side chain. All peptides contained segments of alpha-helical (33-45%) and beta-strand (13-16%) conformation as determined by CD and ATR-FTIR spectroscopy. The order parameters of the peptide helices and the lipid hydrocarbon chains were determined from measurements of the dichroism of the respective infrared absorption bands. Order parameters in the range of 0.0-0.6 were found for the helices of these peptides, which indicate that these peptides are most likely aligned with their alpha-helices at oblique angles to the membrane normal. Some (mostly fusogenic) peptides induced significant increases of the order parameter of the lipid hydrocarbon chains, suggesting that the lipid bilayer becomes more ordered in the presence of these peptides, possibly as a result of dehydration at the membrane surface.

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