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Virology. 2003 Aug 15;313(1):33-43.

Neuraminidase treatment of respiratory syncytial virus-infected cells or virions, but not target cells, enhances cell-cell fusion and infection.

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Department of Immunology/Microbiology, Rush Medical College, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.


Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection of HeLa cells induces fusion, but transient expression of the three viral glycoproteins induces fusion poorly, if at all. We found that neuraminidase treatment of RSV-infected cells to remove sialic acid (SA) increases fusion dramatically and that the same treatment of transiently transfected cells expressing the three viral glycoproteins, or even cells expressing the fusion (F) protein alone, results in easily detectable fusion. Neuraminidase treatment of the effector cells, expressing the viral glycoproteins, enhanced fusion while treatment of the target cells did not. Likewise, infectivity was increased by treating virions with neuraminidase, but not by treating target cells. Reduction of charge repulsion by removal of the negatively charged SA is unlikely to explain this effect, since removal of negative charges from either membrane would reduce charge repulsion. Infection with neuraminidase-treated virus remained heparan-sulfate-dependent, indicating that a novel attachment mechanism is not revealed by SA removal. Interestingly, neuraminidase enhancement of RSV infectivity was less pronounced in a virus expressing both the G and the F glycoproteins, compared to virus expressing only the F glycoprotein, possibly suggesting that the G protein sterically hinders access of the neuraminidase to its fusion-enhancing target.

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