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PLoS Pathog. 2008 Mar 7;4(3):e1000016. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000016.

A virus-encoded cell-cell fusion machine dependent on surrogate adhesins.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


The reovirus fusion-associated small transmembrane (FAST) proteins function as virus-encoded cellular fusogens, mediating efficient cell-cell rather than virus-cell membrane fusion. With ectodomains of only approximately 20-40 residues, it is unclear how such diminutive viral fusion proteins mediate the initial stages (i.e. membrane contact and close membrane apposition) of the fusion reaction that precede actual membrane merger. We now show that the FAST proteins lack specific receptor-binding activity, and in their natural biological context of promoting cell-cell fusion, rely on cadherins to promote close membrane apposition. The FAST proteins, however, are not specifically reliant on cadherin engagement to mediate membrane apposition as indicated by their ability to efficiently utilize other adhesins in the fusion reaction. Results further indicate that surrogate adhesion proteins that bridge membranes as close as 13 nm apart enhance FAST protein-induced cell-cell fusion, but active actin remodelling is required for maximal fusion activity. The FAST proteins are the first example of membrane fusion proteins that have specifically evolved to function as opportunistic fusogens, designed to exploit and convert naturally occurring adhesion sites into fusion sites. The capacity of surrogate, non-cognate adhesins and active actin remodelling to enhance the cell-cell fusion activity of the FAST proteins are features perfectly suited to the structural and functional evolution of these fusogens as the minimal fusion component of a virus-encoded cellular fusion machine. These results also provide a basis for reconciling the rudimentary structure of the FAST proteins with their capacity to fuse cellular membranes.

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