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Virus Res. 2002 May 10;85(2):141-9.

Aggregation of influenza virus ribonucleocapsids at low pH.

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Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, 451 Smyth Road, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1H 8M5.


Uncoating of influenza occurs in endosomes where the acid environment is instrumental in membrane fusion and the dissociation of the ribonucleoprotein (RNP) from matrix protein by the action of the hemagglutinin and M2 protein ion channels, respectively. Earlier studies have shown that low pH treatment results in the release of M1 protein from RNP. To obtain RNP free of M1 protein, we attempted to isolate RNP by velocity sedimentation on pH 5 glycerol gradients; however, the RNP sedimented as pellets under centrifugation conditions that had previously resolved RNP on neutral gradients. The increase in sedimentation rate occurred between pH 5.6 and 6.0 and was reversible for a portion of the RNP on raising the pH to neutrality. RNP isolated from infected cells or virions sedimented on acidification and was seen to form clumps visible by electron microscopy. If acidification preceded NP40 detergent lysis, virion RNP appeared to be released as genomic complexes. The pH threshold for viral membrane fusion was 5.8 indicating that the same pH condition also resulted in aggregation of RNP. Because exposure of virions to pH 5 occurs during uncoating in endosomes and is essential for infectivity, it is possible that low pH-induced RNP aggregation may facilitate aspects of viral uncoating such as dissociation of RNP from M1 or transport of genomes to the nucleus.

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