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J Biol Chem. 2007 Aug 17;282(33):23946-56. Epub 2007 Jun 12.

Locking the kink in the influenza hemagglutinin fusion domain structure.

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Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908, USA.


We have previously identified Trp(14) as a critical residue that stabilizes the kink in the boomerang structure of the influenza fusion domain and found that cells expressing hemagglutinin with a Trp(14) to Ala mutation cannot fuse with red blood cells. However, mutating another aromatic residue, Phe(9), on the other side of the kink did not have a significant effect on fusion or the ability of the mutant fusion peptide to bind to or perturb the bilayer structure of lipid model membranes. We reasoned that Phe is not as potent to contribute to the kink as the larger Trp and that the cooperation of Phe(9) and Ile(10) might be needed to elicit the same effect. Indeed, the double mutant F9A/I10A diminished cell-cell fusion and the ability of the fusion domain to bind to and perturb lipid bilayers in a similar fashion as the W14A mutant. A structure determination of F9A in lipid micelles by solution NMR shows that F9A adopts a similarly kinked structure as wild type. Distances between the two arms of the boomerang structure of wild type, F9A, W14A, and F9A/I10A in lipid bilayers were measured by double electron-electron resonance spectroscopy and showed that the kinks of W14A and F9A/I10A are more flexible than those of wild type and F9A. These results underscore the importance of large hydrophobic residues on both sides of the kink region of the influenza hemagglutinin fusion domain to fix the angle of the boomerang structure and thereby confer fusion function to this critical domain.

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