Product(s) used in this publication: Custom Peptide Synthesis
The structural proteins of flaviviruses carry a unique set of transmembrane domains (TMDs) at their C termini that are derived from the mode of viral polyprotein processing. They function as internal signal and stop-transfer sequences during protein translation, but possible additional roles in protein interactions required during assembly and maturation of viral particles are ill defined. To shed light on the role of TMDs in these processes, we engineered a set of tick-borne encephalitis virus mutants in which these structural elements were replaced in different combinations by the homologous sequences of a distantly related flavivirus (Japanese encephalitis virus). The effects of these modifications were analyzed with respect to protein synthesis, viral particle secretion, specific infectivity, and acidic-pH-induced maturation processes. We provide evidence that interactions involving the double-membrane anchor of the envelope protein E (a unique feature compared to other viral fusion proteins) contribute substantially to particle assembly, stability, and maturation. Disturbances of the inter- and intra-TMD interactions of E resulted in the secretion of a larger proportion of capsidless subviral particles at the expense of whole virions, suggesting a possible role in the still incompletely understood mechanism of capsid integration during virus budding. In contrast, the TMD initially anchoring the C protein to the endoplasmic reticulum membrane does not appear to take part in envelope protein interactions. We also show that E TMDs are involved in the envelope protein rearrangements that are triggered by acidic pH in the trans-Golgi network and represent a hallmark of virus maturation.
The assembly of flaviviruses occurs in the endoplasmic reticulum and leads to the formation of immature, noninfectious particles composed of an RNA-containing capsid surrounded by a lipid membrane, with the two integrated envelope proteins, prM and E, arranged in an icosahedral lattice. The mechanism by which the capsid is formed and integrated into the budding viral envelope is currently unknown. We provide evidence that the transmembrane domains (TMDs) of E are essential for the formation of capsid-containing particles and that disturbances of these interactions lead to the preferential formation of capsidless subviral particles at the expense of whole virions. E TMD interactions also appear to be essential for the envelope protein rearrangements required for virus maturation and for the generation of infectious virions. Our data thus provide new insights into the biological functions of E TMDs and extend their role during viral polyprotein processing to additional functions in particle assembly and maturation.
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