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Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 2008 May-Jun;43(3):189-219. doi: 10.1080/10409230802058320 .

Structures and mechanisms of viral membrane fusion proteins: multiple variations on a common theme.

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Department of Cell Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908-0732, USA.

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  • Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 2008 Jul-Aug;43(4):287-8.


Recent work has identified three distinct classes of viral membrane fusion proteins based on structural criteria. In addition, there are at least four distinct mechanisms by which viral fusion proteins can be triggered to undergo fusion-inducing conformational changes. Viral fusion proteins also contain different types of fusion peptides and vary in their reliance on accessory proteins. These differing features combine to yield a rich diversity of fusion proteins. Yet despite this staggering diversity, all characterized viral fusion proteins convert from a fusion-competent state (dimers or trimers, depending on the class) to a membrane-embedded homotrimeric prehairpin, and then to a trimer-of-hairpins that brings the fusion peptide, attached to the target membrane, and the transmembrane domain, attached to the viral membrane, into close proximity thereby facilitating the union of viral and target membranes. During these conformational conversions, the fusion proteins induce membranes to progress through stages of close apposition, hemifusion, and then the formation of small, and finally large, fusion pores. Clearly, highly divergent proteins have converged on the same overall strategy to mediate fusion, an essential step in the life cycle of every enveloped virus.

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