Aromatic and polar residues spanning the putative fusion peptide of Andes virus are essential for membrane fusion and infection
ABSTRACT: Hantaviruses infect human cells through cell attachment and subsequent fusion of viral and cellular membranes at low pH. This largely unknown entry process is mediated by the Gn and Gc glycoproteins, anchored at the viral envelope membrane. Performing bioinformatic analysis and peptide-liposome-binding assays we suggested in a former report that Gc of Andes virus (ANDV) and other hantaviruses corresponds to the viral fusion protein sharing characteristics with class II fusion proteins. To gain insights into the fusion protein of hantaviruses, residues within the previously predicted fusion peptide of ANDV Gc were substituted and mutant proteins tested in fusion and infection assays. To ensure proper folding of mutant proteins, they were first characterized for trafficking to the plasma membrane and incorporation on to ANDV Gn/Gcpseudotyped lentiviral particles. Cell attachment of these particles was assessed using a newly developed binding assay and their subsequent entry properties determined by FACS analysis of transduced cells expressing the GFP reporter gene. Furthermore, a three-colour-based cell–cell fusion assay of ANDV Gn/Gc expressing cells was performed. The results indicate an essential role of conserved Gc residues W115 and N118 in membrane fusion. Conversely, substitutions of the non-conserved Gc residue G116 did not considerably affect fusion and infection. Altogether, the findings are fully consistent with our earlier prediction suggesting Gc residues 115–121 as an internal fusion peptide and further emphasize the importance of aromatic and polar residues in hantavirus–cell membrane fusion.