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Biochemistry. 1998 May 19;37(20):7496-503.

Probe transfer with and without membrane fusion in a fluorescence fusion assay.

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Department of Physiology, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, State University of New York at Buffalo 14214, USA.


An analysis of the R18 fusion assay was made during the fusion of the Sendai virus with erythrocyte ghosts. The increase in R18 fluorescence, reflecting the interaction process, was evaluated in terms of the different processes that in principle may contribute to this increase, that is, monomeric probe transfer, hemifusion, and complete fusion. To this end, the kinetics of the R18-labeled lipid mixing were compared to those obtained with an assay in which the fusion-monitoring probe, eosin-maleimide, was attached to the viral surface proteins. The experiments relied on the use of native and fusion-inactive viruses and studies involving viral and target membranes that were modified by the incorporation of the lysophospholipid. The total dequenching signal detected in the R18 assay consists of components from probe transferred without fusion and from fusion itself. At 37 degrees C, the initial rate of dequenching (within two minutes) was predominately from the probe diluted by fusion with little contribution from transfer. The dequenching signal due to the probe transfer without fusion occurred at temperatures as low as 10 degrees C and increased linearly with time. Complete fusion started at about 20-25 degrees C and increased sharply at 30 degrees C. The extent of hemifusion was deduced from the total R18 dequenching data and those of the eosin-maleimide labeled protein dilution method for the limiting cases; the analysis indicates that hemifusion started at about 15 degrees C and increased over the range 20-25 degrees C. The initial rate of dequenching of the R18 assay measured within 2 min gives an accurate measure of membrane fusion above 30 degrees C.

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