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PLoS Pathog. 2012;8(5):e1002694. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002694. Epub 2012 May 10.

Synchronized retrovirus fusion in cells expressing alternative receptor isoforms releases the viral core into distinct sub-cellular compartments.

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Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Emory University Children's Center, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.


Disparate enveloped viruses initiate infection by fusing with endosomes. However, the highly diverse and dynamic nature of endosomes impairs mechanistic studies of fusion and identification of sub-cellular sites supporting the nucleocapsid release. We took advantage of the extreme stability of avian retrovirus-receptor complexes at neutral pH and of acid-dependence of virus-endosome fusion to isolate the latter step from preceding asynchronous internalization/trafficking steps. Viruses were trapped within endosomes in the presence of NH₄Cl. Removal of NH₄Cl resulted in a quick and uniform acidification of all subcellular compartments, thereby initiating synchronous viral fusion. Single virus imaging demonstrated that fusion was initiated within seconds after acidification and often culminated in the release of the viral core from an endosome. Comparative studies of cells expressing either the transmembrane or GPI-anchored receptor isoform revealed that the transmembrane receptor delivered the virus to more fusion-permissive compartments. Thus the identity of endosomal compartments, in addition to their acidity, appears to modulate viral fusion. A more striking manifestation of the virus delivery to distinct compartments in the presence of NH₄Cl was the viral core release into the cytosol of cells expressing the transmembrane receptor and into endosomes of cells expressing the GPI-anchored isoform. In the latter cells, the newly released cores exhibited restricted mobility and were exposed to a more acidic environment than the cytoplasm. These cores appear to enter into the cytosol after an additional slow temperature-dependent step. We conclude that the NH₄Cl block traps the virus within intralumenal vesicles of late endosomes in cells expressing the GPI-anchored receptor. Viruses surrounded by more than one endosomal membrane release their core into the cytoplasm in two steps--fusion with an intralumenal vesicle followed by a yet unknown temperature-dependent step that liberates the core from late endosomes.

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