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J Mol Biol. 1998;283(1):71-81.

The first step: activation of the Semliki Forest virus spike protein precursor causes a localized conformational change in the trimeric spike.

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Structural Biology Programme, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Meyerhofstrasse 1, Heidelberg, 69117, Germany.


The structure of the particle formed by the SFVmSQL mutant of Semliki Forest virus (SFV) has been defined by cryo-electron microscopy and image reconstruction to a resolution of 21 A. The SQL mutation blocks the cleavage of p62, the precursor of the spike proteins E2 and E3, which normally occurs in the trans-Golgi. The uncleaved spike protein is insensitive to the low pH treatment that triggers membrane fusion during entry of the wild-type virus. The conformation of the spike in the SFVmSQL particle should correspond to that of the inactive precursor found in the early stages of the secretory pathway. Comparison of this "precursor" structure with that of the mature, wild-type, virus allows visualization of the changes that lead to activation, the first step in the pathway toward fusion. We find that the conformational change in the spike is dramatic but localized. The projecting domains of the spikes are completely separated in the precursor and close to generate a cavity in the mature spike. E1, the fusion peptide-bearing protein, interacts only with the p62 in its own third of the trimer before cleavage and then collapses to form a trimer of heterotrimers (E1E2E3)3 surrounding the cavity, poised for the pH-induced conformational change that leads to fusion. The capsid, transmembrane regions and the spike skirts (thin layers of protein that link spikes above the membrane) remain unchanged by cleavage. Similarly, the interactions of the spikes with the nucleocapsid through the transmembrane domains remain constant. Hence, the interactions that lead to virus assembly are unaffected by the SFVmSQL mutation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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