The role of E3 in pH protection during alphavirus assembly and exit

Onyinyechukwu Uchime, Whitney Fields, Margaret Kielian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Alphaviruses are small enveloped viruses whose surface is covered by spikes composed of trimers of E2/E1 glycoprotein heterodimers. During virus entry, the E2/E1 dimer dissociates within the acidic endosomal environment, freeing the E1 protein to mediate fusion of the viral and endosome membranes. E2 is synthesized as a precursor, p62, which is cleaved by furin in the late secretory pathway to produce mature E2 and a small peripheral glycoprotein, E3. The immature p62/E1 dimer is acid resistant, but since p62 is cleaved before exit from the acidic secretory pathway, low pH-dependent binding of E3 to the spike complex is believed to prevent premature fusion. Based on analysis of the structure of the Chikungunya virus E3/E2/E1 complex, we hypothesized that interactions of E3 residues Y47 and Y48 with E2 are important in this binding. We then directly tested the in vivo role of E3 in pH protection by alanine substitutions of E3 Y47 and Y48 (Y47/48A) in Semliki Forest virus. The mutant was nonviable and was blocked in E1 transport to the plasma membrane and virus production. Although the Y47/48A mutant initially formed the p62/E1 heterodimer, the dimer dissociated during transport through the secretory pathway. Neutralization of the pH in the secretory pathway successfully rescued dimer association, E1 transport, and infectious particle production. Further mutagenesis identified the critical contact as the cation-π interaction of E3 Y47 with E2. Thus, E3 mediates pH protection of E1 during virus biogenesis via interactions strongly dependent on Y47 at the E3-E2 interface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10255-10262
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number18
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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