Role of conserved histidine residues in the low-pH dependence of the Semliki Forest virus fusion protein

Zhao Ling Qin, Yan Zheng, Margaret Kielian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


A wide variety of enveloped viruses infects cells by taking advantage of the low pH in the endocytic pathway to trigger virus-membrane fusion. For alphaviruses such as Semliki Forest virus (SFV), acidic pH initiates a series of conformational changes in the heterodimeric virus envelope proteins E1 and E2. Low pH dissociates the E2/E1 dimer, releasing the membrane fusion protein E1. E1 inserts into the target membrane and refolds to a trimeric hairpin conformation, thus driving the fusion reaction. The means by which E1 senses and responds to low pH is unclear, and protonation of conserved E1 histidine residues has been proposed as a possible mechanism. We tested the role of four conserved histidines by mutagenesis of the wild-type (wt) SFV infectious clone to create virus mutants with E1 H3A, H125A, H331A, and H331A/H333A mutations. The H125A, H331A, and H331A/H333A mutants had growth properties similar to those of wt SFV and showed modest change or no change in the pH dependence of virus-membrane fusion. By contrast, the E1 H3A mutation produced impaired virus growth and a markedly more acidic pH requirement for virus-membrane fusion. The dissociation of the H3A heterodimer and the membrane insertion of the mutant E1 protein were comparable to those of the wt in efficiency and pH dependence. However, the formation of the H3A homotrimer required a much lower pH and showed reduced efficiency. Together, these results and the location of H3 suggest that this residue acts to regulate the low-pH-dependent refolding of E1 during membrane fusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4670-4677
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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