Journal of virology

Mechanism for active membrane fusion triggering by morbillivirus attachment protein.

PMID 23077316


The paramyxovirus entry machinery consists of two glycoproteins that tightly cooperate to achieve membrane fusion for cell entry: the tetrameric attachment protein (HN, H, or G, depending on the paramyxovirus genus) and the trimeric fusion protein (F). Here, we explore whether receptor-induced conformational changes within morbillivirus H proteins promote membrane fusion by a mechanism requiring the active destabilization of prefusion F or by the dissociation of prefusion F from intracellularly preformed glycoprotein complexes. To properly probe F conformations, we identified anti-F monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) that recognize conformation-dependent epitopes. Through heat treatment as a surrogate for H-mediated F triggering, we demonstrate with these MAbs that the morbillivirus F trimer contains a sufficiently high inherent activation energy barrier to maintain the metastable prefusion state even in the absence of H. This notion was further validated by exploring the conformational states of destabilized F mutants and stabilized soluble F variants combined with the use of a membrane fusion inhibitor (3g). Taken together, our findings reveal that the morbillivirus H protein must lower the activation energy barrier of metastable prefusion F for fusion triggering.