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Retrovirology. 2009 Sep 18;6:84. doi: 10.1186/1742-4690-6-84.

Visualizing fusion of pseudotyped HIV-1 particles in real time by live cell microscopy.

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Department of Virology, Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.



Most retroviruses enter their host cells by fusing the viral envelope with the plasma membrane. Although the protein machinery promoting fusion has been characterized extensively, the dynamics of the process are largely unknown.


We generated human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) particles pseudotyped with the envelope (Env) protein of ecotropic murine leukemia virus eMLV to study retrovirus entry at the plasma membrane using live-cell microscopy. This Env protein mediates highly efficient pH independent fusion at the cell surface and can be functionally tagged with a fluorescent protein. To detect fusion events, double labeled particles carrying one fluorophor in Env and the other in the matrix (MA) domain of Gag were generated and characterized. Fusion events were defined as loss of Env signal after virus-cell contact. Single particle tracking of >20,000 individual traces in two color channels recorded 28 events of color separation, where particles lost the Env protein, with the MA layer remaining stable at least for a short period. Fourty-five events were detected where both colors were lost simultaneously. Importantly, the first type of event was never observed when particles were pseudotyped with a non-fusogenic Env.


These results reveal rapid retroviral fusion at the plasma membrane and permit studies of the immediate post-fusion events.

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