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J Virol. 2010 Feb;84(4):2001-12. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01791-09. Epub 2009 Nov 25.

Fusion-deficient insertion mutants of herpes simplex virus type 1 glycoprotein B adopt the trimeric postfusion conformation.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, Tufts University School of Medicine, 136 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02111, USA.


Glycoprotein B (gB) enables the fusion of viral and cell membranes during entry of herpesviruses. However, gB alone is insufficient for membrane fusion; the gH/gL heterodimer is also required. The crystal structure of the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) gB ectodomain, gB730, has demonstrated similarities between gB and other viral fusion proteins, leading to the hypothesis that gB is a fusogen, presumably directly involved in bringing the membranes together by refolding from its initial or prefusion form to its final or postfusion form. The only available crystal structure likely represents the postfusion form of gB; the prefusion form has not yet been determined. Previously, a panel of HSV-1 gB mutants was generated by using random 5-amino-acid-linker insertion mutagenesis. Several mutants were unable to mediate cell-cell fusion despite being expressed on the cell surface. Mapping of the insertion sites onto the crystal structure of gB730 suggested that several insertions might not be accommodated in the postfusion form. Thus, we hypothesized that some insertion mutants were nonfunctional due to being "trapped" in a prefusion form. Here, we generated five insertion mutants as soluble ectodomains and characterized them biochemically. We show that the ectodomains of all five mutants assume conformations similar to that of the wild-type gB730. Four mutants have biochemical properties and overall structures that are indistinguishable from those of the wild-type gB730. We conclude that these mutants undergo only minor local conformational changes to relieve the steric strain resulting from the presence of 5 extra amino acids. Interestingly, one mutant, while able to adopt the overall postfusion structure, displays significant conformational differences in the vicinity of fusion loops, relative to wild-type gB730. Moreover, this mutant has a diminished ability to associate with liposomes, suggesting that the fusion loops in this mutant have decreased functional activity. We propose that these insertions cause a fusion-deficient phenotype not by preventing conversion of gB to a postfusion-like conformation but rather by interfering with other gB functions.

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