Journal of virology

Variations in pH sensitivity, acid stability, and fusogenicity of three influenza virus H3 subtypes.

PMID 25320308


Influenza A virus strains adapt to achieve successful entry into host species. Entry is mediated by the viral membrane protein hemagglutinin (HA), which triggers membrane fusion and genome release under acidic conditions in the endosome. In addition to changes in the receptor binding domain, the acid stability of HA has been linked to the successful transmission of virus between avian and human hosts. However, to fully understand the connection between changes in HA and host tropism, additional factors relevant to HA structure-function and membrane fusion are also likely to be important. Using single-particle-tracking (SPT) techniques, individual membrane fusion events can be observed under specific conditions, which provide detailed information regarding HA pH sensitivity and acid stability and the rate and extent of membrane fusion. This provides a comparative way to characterize and distinguish influenza virus fusion properties among virus strains. We used SPT to quantify the fusion properties of three H3 influenza strains: A/Aichi/68/H3N2 (X:31), A/Udorn/72/H3N2 (Udorn), and A/Brisbane/07/H3N2 (Brisbane). The rate of fusion for the most clinically relevant strain, Brisbane, is generally insensitive to decreasing pH, while the fusion of the egg-adapted strains Udorn and X:31 is strongly dependent on pH (and is faster) as the pH decreases. All strains exhibit similar acid stability (the length of time that they remain fusogenic in an acidic environment) at higher pHs, but the egg-adapted strains become less acid stable at lower pHs. Thus, it appears that the laboratory-adapted H3 strains tested may have evolved to compensate for the faster HA deactivation at low pH, with a commensurate increase in the rate of fusion and number of proteins facilitating fusion, relative to the Brisbane strain. The ability of influenza virus to release its genome under different acidic conditions has recently been linked to the transmission of influenza virus between different species. However, it is yet to be determined how acid-induced membrane fusion varies with virus strain and influences tropism. The results presented here are the results of an intra-H3-subtype study of acid stability and fusion kinetics. Using a single-particle-tracking (SPT) technique, we show here that the highest pH that initiates fusion is not necessarily the pH at which the kinetics of fusion is fastest and most abundant for a given strain. Strains exhibit different fusion behaviors, as evidenced by their unique kinetic trends; pH sensitivities, as evidenced by the differences when the first fusion events commence; and HA stabilities, as evidenced by the length of time that virions can persist in an acidic environment and still be fusion competent.