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Biochemistry. 1990 Oct 16;29(41):9697-707.

Fusion of influenza hemagglutinin-expressing fibroblasts with glycophorin-bearing liposomes: role of hemagglutinin surface density.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0450.


Influenza virus gains access to the cytoplasm of its host cell by means of a fusion event between viral and host cell membrane. Fusion is mediated by the envelope glycoprotein hemagglutinin (HA) and is triggered by low pH. To learn how many hemagglutinin trimers are necessary to cause membrane fusion, we have used two NIH 3T3 fibroblast cell lines that express HA protein at different surface densities. On the basis of quantitations of the number of HA trimers per cell and the relative surface areas of the two cell lines, the HAb-2 cells have a 1.9-fold higher plasma membrane surface density than the GP4F cells. The membrane lateral diffusion coefficient and the mobile fraction for HA is the same for both cell lines. A Scatchard analysis of the binding of glycophorin-bearing liposomes to the cells showed 1700 binding sites for the GP4F cells and 3750 binding sites for the HAb-2 cells, with effectively the same liposome-cell binding constant, about 7 x 10(10) M-1. Binding was specific for glycophorin on the liposomes and HA expressed on the cells. A competition experiment employing toxin-containing and empty liposomes allowed us to quantitate the number of liposomes that fused per cell, which was a small constant fraction of the number of bound liposomes. For the HAb-2 cells, about 1 in every 70 bound liposomes fused and for the GP4F cells about 1 in every 300 bound liposomes fused. Hence, the HAb-2 cells showed 4.4 times more fusion per bound liposome, even though the surface density of HA was only 1.9 times greater. We conclude the following: (i) One HA trimer is not sufficient to induce fusion. (ii) The HA bound to glycophorin is not the HA that induces fusion. That is, even though each HA has a binding and a fusion function, those functions are not performed by the same HA trimer.

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