Paramyxoviruses include several insidious and ubiquitous pathogens of humans and animals, with measles virus (MeV) being a prominent one. The MeV membrane fusion apparatus consists of a receptor binding protein (hemagglutinin [H]) tetramer and a fusion (F) protein trimer. Four globular MeV H heads are connected to a tetrameric stalk through flexible linkers. We sought here to characterize the function of a 17-residue H-head segment proximal to the stalk that was unresolved in all five MeV Hhead crystal or cocrystal structures. In particular, we assessed whether its primary sequence and length are critical for proper protein oligomerization and intracellular transport or for membrane fusion triggering. Extensive alanine substitutions had no effect on fusion triggering, suggesting that sequence identity is not critical for this function. Excessive shortening of this segment reduced or completely abrogated fusion trigger function, while length compensation restored it. We then characterized the mechanism of function loss. Mutated H proteins were efficiently transported to the cell surface, but certain alterations enhancing linker flexibility resulted in accumulation of high-molecular-weight H oligomers. Some oligomers had reduced fusion trigger capacity, while others retained this function. Thus, length and rigidity of the unresolved head segment favor proper H tetramerization and counteract interactions between subunits from different tetramers. The structurally unresolved H-head segment, together with the top of the stalk, may act as a leash to provide the right degree of freedom for the heads of individual tetramers to adopt a triggering-permissive conformation while avoiding improper contacts with heads of neighboring tetramers.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science