Direct intracellular visualization of ebola virus-receptor interaction by in situ proximity ligation

Eva Mittler, Tanwee Alkutkar, Rohit K. Jangra, Kartik Chandran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Ebola virus (EBOV) entry into host cells comprises stepwise and exten-sive interactions of the sole viral surface glycoprotein (GP) with multiple host fac-tors. During the intricate process, following virus uptake and trafficking to late endosomal/lysosomal compartments, GP is proteolytically processed to cleaved GP (GPCL) by the endosomal proteases cathepsin B and L, unmasking GP’s receptor-binding site. Engagement of GPCL with the universal filoviral intracellular receptor Niemann-Pick C1 (NPC1) eventually culminates in fusion between viral and cellular membranes, cytoplasmic escape of the viral nucleocapsid, and subsequent infec-tion. Mechanistic delineation of the indispensable GPCL-NPC1-binding step has been severely hampered by the unavailability of a robust cell-based assay assessing interaction of GPCL with full-length endosomal NPC1. Here, we describe a novel in situ assay to monitor GPCL-NPC1 engagement in intact, infected cells. Visualization of the subcellular localization of binding complexes is based on the principle of DNA-assisted, antibody-mediated proximity ligation. Virus-receptor binding moni-tored by proximity ligation was contingent on GP’s proteolytic cleavage and was sensitive to perturbations in the GPCL-NPC1 interface. Our assay also specifically decoupled detection of virus-receptor binding from steps post-receptor binding, such as membrane fusion and infection. Testing of multiple FDA-approved small-molecule inhibitors revealed that drug treatments inhibited virus entry and GPCL-NPC1 recognition by distinctive mech-anisms. Together, here we present a newly established proximity ligation assay, which will allow us to dissect cellular and viral requirements for filovirus-receptor binding and to delineate the mechanisms of action of inhibitors on filovirus entry in a cell-based system. IMPORTANCE Ebola virus causes episodic but increasingly frequent outbreaks of severe disease in Middle Africa, as shown by the recently overcome second largest outbreak on record in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite considerable effort, FDA-approved anti-filoviral therapeutics or targeted interventions are not available yet. Virus host-cell invasion represents an attractive target for antivirals; however, our understanding of the inhibitory mechanisms of novel therapeutics is often hampered by fragmented knowledge of the filovirus-host molecular interactions required for viral infection. To help close this critical knowledge gap, here, we report an in situ assay to monitor binding of the EBOV glycoprotein to its receptor NPC1 in intact, infected cells. We demonstrate that our in situ assay based on proximity ligation represents a powerful tool to delineate receptor-viral glycoprotein interactions. Similar assays can be utilized to exam-ine receptor interactions of diverse viral surface proteins whose studies have been hampered until now by the lack of robust in situ assays.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03100-20
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • Ebola virus
  • Glycoprotein
  • Inhibitors
  • NPC1
  • Proximity ligation
  • Virus entry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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