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Alteration of the pH dependence of coronavirus-induced cell fusion: effect of mutations in the spike glycoprotein

Alteration of the pH dependence of coronavirus-induced cell fusion: effect of mutations in the spike glycoprotein

Journal of Virology 65(4): 1916-1928

Infection of susceptible murine cells with the coronavirus mouse hepatitis virus type 4 (MHV4) results in extensive cell-cell fusion at pHs from 5.5 to 8.5. The endosomotropic weak bases chloroquine and ammonium chloride do not prevent MHV4 infection. In marked contrast, we have selected variants from a neural cell line persistently infected with MHV4 which are entirely dependent on acid pH to fuse host cells and are strongly inhibited by endosomotropic weak bases. Wild-type and variant viruses were compared at the level of the fusion-active surface (S) glycoprotein gene. Cloning and sequencing of each 4,131-base open reading frame predicted a total of eight amino acid differences which fell into three distinct clusters. Each S glycoprotein, when expressed from cDNA, was synthesized in equivalent amounts, and similar proportions were transported to the cell surface. Wild-type S induced cell-cell fusion at neutral pH, whereas variant S required prolonged exposure to acidic pH to induce fusion. Expression of hybrid S genes prepared by exchange of restriction fragments between wild-type and variant cDNAs revealed that elimination of neutral pH fusion was solely dependent on amino acid alterations at positions 1067 (Q to H), 1094 (Q to H), and 1114 (L to R). These changes lie within a predicted heptad repeat region of the transmembrane cleavage fragment of S (S2). These findings demonstrate that the pH dependence of coronavirus fusion is highly variable and that this variability can be determined by as few as three amino acid residues.

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Accession: 039220708

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PMID: 1848311

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