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Murine coronavirus membrane fusion is blocked by modification of thiols buried within the spike protein

Murine coronavirus membrane fusion is blocked by modification of thiols buried within the spike protein

Journal of Virology 70(7): 4683-4690

The envelopes of murine hepatitis virus (MHV) particles are studded with glycoprotein spikes that function both to promote virion binding to its cellular receptor and to mediate virion-cell membrane fusion. In this study, the cysteine-rich spikes were subjected to chemical modification to determine whether such structural alterations impact the virus entry process. Ellman reagent, a membrane-impermeant oxidizing agent which reacts with exposed cysteine residues to effect covalent addition of large thionitrobenzoate moieties, was incubated at 37 degrees C with the JHM strain of MHV. Relative to untreated virus, 1 mM Ellman reagent reduced infectivity by 2 log(10) after 1 h. This level of inhibition was not observed at incubation temperatures below 21 degrees C, suggesting that virion surface proteins undergo thermal transitions that expose cysteine residues to modification by the reagent. Quantitative receptor binding and membrane fusion assays were developed and used to show that Ellman reagent specifically inhibited membrane fusion induced by the MHV JHM spike protein. However, this inhibition was strain specific, because the closely related MHV strain A59 was unaffected. To identify the basis for this strain specificity, spike cDNAs were prepared in which portions encoded either JHM or A59 residues. cDNAs were expressed with vaccinia virus vectors and tested for sensitivity to Ellman reagent in the fusion assays. The results revealed a correlation between the severity of inhibition mediated by Ellman reagent and the presence of a JHM-specific cysteine (Cys-1163). Thus, the presence of this cysteine increases the availability of spikes for a thiol modification that ultimately prevents fusion competence.

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Accession: 009064329

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PMID: 8676494

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