Zawada KE, Okamoto K, Kasson PM
J. Mol. Biol. 430 (5) 594-601 [2018-03-02; online 2018-02-02]
Influenza viral entry into the host cell cytoplasm is accomplished by a process of membrane fusion mediated by the viral hemagglutinin protein. Hemagglutinin acts in a pH-triggered fashion, inserting a short fusion peptide into the host membrane followed by refolding of a coiled-coil structure to draw the viral envelope and host membranes together. Mutations to this fusion peptide provide an important window into viral fusion mechanisms and protein-membrane interactions. Here, we show that a well-described fusion peptide mutant, G1S, has a phenotype that depends strongly on the viral membrane context. The G1S mutant is well known to cause a "hemifusion" phenotype based on experiments in transfected cells, where cells expressing G1S hemagglutinin can undergo lipid mixing in a pH-triggered fashion similar to virus but will not support fusion pores. We compare fusion by the G1S hemagglutinin mutant expressed either in cells or in influenza virions and show that this hemifusion phenotype occurs in transfected cells but that native virions are able to support full fusion, albeit at a slower rate and 10-100× reduced infectious titer. We explain this with a quantitative model where the G1S mutant, instead of causing an absolute block of fusion, alters the protein stoichiometry required for fusion. This change slightly slows fusion at high hemagglutinin density, as on the viral surface, but at lower hemagglutinin density produces a hemifusion phenotype. The quantitative model thus reproduces the observed virus-cell and cell-cell fusion phenotypes, yielding a unified explanation where membrane context can control the observed viral fusion phenotype.