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J Mol Biol. 2000 Dec 15;304(5):953-65.

pH-dependent self-association of influenza hemagglutinin fusion peptides in lipid bilayers.

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Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics and Center for Structural Biology, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville, VA 22908-0736, USA.


We have recently designed a host-guest peptide system that allows us to quantitatively measure the energetics of interaction of viral fusion peptides with lipid bilayers. Here, we show that fusion peptides of influenza hemagglutinin reversibly associate with one another at membrane surfaces above critical surface concentrations, which range from one to five peptides per 1000 lipids in the systems that we investigated. It is further demonstrated by using circular dichroism and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy that monomeric peptides insert into the bilayers in a predominantly alpha-helical conformation, whereas self-associated fusion peptides adopt predominantly antiparallel beta-sheet structures at the membrane surface. The two forms are readily interconvertible and the equilibrium between them is determined by the pH and ionic strength of the surrounding solution. Lowering the pH favors the monomeric alpha-helical conformation, whereas increasing the ionic strength shifts the equilibrium towards the membrane-associated beta-aggregates. The binding data are interpreted in terms of a cooperative binding model that yields free energies of insertion and free energies of self-association for each of the peptides studied at pH 7.4 and pH 5. At pH 5 and 35 mM ionic strength, the insertion energy of the 20 residue influenza hemagglutinin fusion peptide is -7.2 kcal/mol and the self-association energy is -1.9 kcal/mol. We propose that self-association of fusion peptides could be a major driving force for recruiting a small number of hemagglutinin trimers into a fusion site.

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