The Final Conformation of the Complete Ectodomain of the HA2 Subunit of Influenza Hemagglutinin Can by Itself Drive Low pH-dependent Fusion
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One of the best characterized fusion proteins, the influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA), mediates fusion between the viral envelope and the endosomal membrane during viral entry into the cell. In the initial conformation of HA, its fusogenic subunit, the transmembrane protein HA2, is locked in a metastable conformation by the receptor-binding HA1 subunit of HA. Acidification in the endosome triggers HA2 refolding toward the final lowest energy conformation. Is the fusion process driven by this final conformation or, as often suggested, by the energy released by protein restructuring? Here we explored structural properties as well as the fusogenic activity of the full sized trimeric HA2(1-185) (here called HA2*) that presents the final conformation of the HA2 ectodomain. We found HA2* to mediate fusion between lipid bilayers and between biological membranes in a low pH-dependent manner. Two mutations known to inhibit HA-mediated fusion strongly inhibited the fusogenic activity of HA2*. At surface densities similar to those of HA in the influenza virus particle, HA2* formed small fusion pores but did not expand them. Our results confirm that the HA1 subunit responsible for receptor binding as well as the transmembrane and cytosolic domains of HA2 is not required for fusion pore opening and substantiate the hypothesis that the final form of HA2 is more important for fusion than the conformational change that generates this form.
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