Beyond Anchoring: The Expanding Role of the Hendra Virus Fusion Protein Transmembrane Domain in Protein Folding, Stability, and Function


While work with viral fusion proteins has demonstrated that the transmembrane domain (TMD) can affect protein folding, stability, and membrane fusion promotion, the mechanism(s) remains poorly understood. TMDs could play a role in fusion promotion through direct TMD-TMD interactions, and we have recently shown that isolated TMDs from three paramyxovirus fusion (F) proteins interact as trimers using sedimentation equilibrium (SE) analysis (E. C. Smith, et al., submitted for publication). Immediately N-terminal to the TMD is heptad repeat B (HRB), which plays critical roles in fusion. Interestingly, addition of HRB decreased the stability of the trimeric TMD-TMD interactions. This result, combined with previous findings that HRB forms a trimeric coiled coil in the prefusion form of the whole protein though HRB peptides fail to stably associate in isolation, suggests that the trimeric TMD-TMD interactions work in concert with elements in the F ectodomain head to stabilize a weak HRB interaction. Thus, changes in TMD-TMD interactions could be important in regulating F triggering and refolding. Alanine insertions between the TMD and HRB demonstrated that spacing between these two regions is important for protein stability while not affecting TMD-TMD interactions. Additional mutagenesis of the C-terminal end of the TMD suggests that β-branched residues within the TMD play a role in membrane fusion, potentially through modulation of TMD-TMD interactions. Our results support a model whereby the C-terminal end of the Hendra virus F TMD is an important regulator of TMD-TMD interactions and show that these interactions help hold HRB in place prior to the triggering of membrane fusion.

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Published in Journal of Virology, v. 86, no. 6, p. 3003-3013.

Copyright © 2012, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

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