Self-assembly of influenza hemagglutinin: studies of ectodomain aggregation by in situ atomic force microscopy
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We have used in situ tapping mode atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study the structural morphology of two fragments of the influenza hemagglutinin protein bound to supported bilayers. The two proteins that we studied are the bromelain-cleaved hemagglutinin (BHA), corresponding to the full ectodomain of the hemagglutinin protein, and FHA2, the 127 amino acid N-terminal fragment of the HA2 subunit of the hemagglutinin protein. While BHA is water soluble at neutral pH and is known to bind to membranes via specific interactions with a viral receptor, FHA2 can only be solubilized in water with an appropriate detergent. Furthermore, FHA2 is known to readily bind to membranes at neutral pH in the absence of a receptor. Our in situ AFM studies demonstrated that, when bound to supported bilayers at neutral pH, both these proteins are self-assembled as single trimeric molecules. In situ acidification resulted in further lateral association of the FHA2 without a large perturbation of the bilayer. In contrast, BHA remained largely unaffected by acidification, except in areas of exposed mica where it is aggregated. Remarkably, these results are consistent with previous observations that FHA2 promotes membrane fusion while BHA only induces liposome leakage at low pH. The results presented here are the first example of in situ imaging of the ectodomain of a viral envelope protein allowing characterization of the real-time self-assembly of a membrane fusion protein.
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