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J Virol. 1994 Nov;68(11):6940-6.

Membrane and protein interactions of a soluble form of the Semliki Forest virus fusion protein.

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Department of Cell Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461.


Semliki Forest virus is an enveloped alphavirus that infects cells by a membrane fusion reaction triggered by the low pH present in endocytic vacuoles. Fusion is mediated by the E1 spike protein subunit. During fusion, several conformational changes occur in E1 and E2, the two transmembrane subunits of the spike protein. These changes include dissociation of the E1-E2 dimer, alteration of the trypsin sensitivity and monoclonal antibody binding patterns of E1, and formation of a sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)-resistant E1 homotrimer. A critical characteristic of Semliki Forest virus fusion is also its dependence on the presence of both cholesterol and sphingomyelin in the target membrane. We have here examined the conformational changes induced by low pH treatment of E1*, the water-soluble, proteolytically truncated ectodomain of the E1 subunit. Following low pH treatment, E1* was shown to bind efficiently to artificial liposomes. Similar to virus fusion, optimal E1*-liposome binding required low pH, cholesterol, and sphingomyelin. The E1 ectodomain, although monomeric in its neutral pH form, assembled into an SDS-resistant oligomer following treatment at low pH. This low pH-induced oligomerization required target membranes containing both cholesterol and sphingomyelin. Our results demonstrate that the E1 ectodomain responds to low pH similarly to the full-length E1 subunit. The ectodomain facilitates the characterization of conformational changes and membrane binding in the absence of virus fusion or other virus components.

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