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J Virol. 2017 Nov 14;91(23). pii: e01255-17. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01255-17. Print 2017 Dec 1.

Epstein-Barr Virus Fusion with Epithelial Cells Triggered by gB Is Restricted by a gL Glycosylation Site.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Department of Structural Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) entry into epithelial cells is mediated by the conserved core fusion machinery, composed of the fusogen gB and the receptor-binding complex gH/gL. The heterodimeric gH/gL complex binds to the EBV epithelial cell receptor or gp42, which binds to the B-cell receptor, triggering gB-mediated fusion of the virion envelope with cellular membranes. Our previous study found that the gL glycosylation mutant N69L/S71V had an epithelial cell-specific hyperfusogenic phenotype. To study the influence of this gL mutant on the initiation and kinetics of gB-driven epithelial cell fusion, we established a virus-free split-green fluorescent protein cell-cell fusion assay that enables real-time measurements of membrane fusion using live cells. The gL_N69L/S71V mutant had a large increase in epithelial cell fusion activity of up to 300% greater than that of wild-type gL starting at early time points. The hyperfusogenicity of the gL mutant was not a result of alterations in complex formation with gH or alterations in cellular localization. Moreover, the hyperfusogenic phenotype of the gL mutant correlated with the formation of enlarged syncytia. In summary, our present findings highlight an important role of gL in the kinetics of gB-mediated epithelial cell fusion, adding to previous findings indicating a direct interaction between gL and gB in EBV membrane fusion.IMPORTANCE EBV predominantly infects epithelial cells and B lymphocytes, which are the cells of origin for the EBV-associated malignancies Hodgkin and Burkitt lymphoma as well as nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Contrary to the other key players of the core fusion machinery, gL has the most elusive role during EBV-induced membrane fusion. We found that the glycosylation site N69/S71 of gL is involved in restricting epithelial cell fusion activity, strongly correlating with syncytium size. Interestingly, our data showed that the gL glycosylation mutant increases the fusion activity of the hyperfusogenic gB mutants, indicating that this gL mutant and the gB mutants target different steps during fusion. Our studies on how gL and gB work together to modulate epithelial cell fusion kinetics are essential to understand the highly tuned tropism of EBV for epithelial cells and B lymphocytes and may result in novel strategies for therapies preventing viral entry into target host cells. Finally, making our results of particular interest is the absence of gL syncytial mutants in other herpesviruses.


Epstein-Barr virus; gB; gH/gL; herpesvirus

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