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Biological function of the low-pH, fusion-inactive conformation of rabies virus glycoprotein (G): G is transported in a fusion-inactive state-like conformation.

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  • Research Article
  • Biology


The glycoprotein (G) of rabies virus can assume at least three different conformations: the native (N) state detected at the viral surface above pH 7; the activated (A) hydrophobic state, which is probably involved in the first steps of the fusion process; and the fusion-inactive (I) conformation. There is a pH-dependent equilibrium between these states, the equilibrium being shifted towards the I state at low pH. It has been supposed that the transition from the N to the I state mediates membrane fusion. By using a lipid-mixing assay, we studied the kinetics of fusion and fusion inactivation for two rabies virus strains, PV and CVS. In addition, by using electron microscopy and a trypsin sensitivity assay, we analyzed the kinetics of the conformational change towards the I state for both strains. Although the PV strain fuses faster, inactivation and the conformational change of PV G occur more slowly than for the CVS strain. This suggests that the structural transition towards the I state is irrelevant to the fusion process. Immunofluorescence and immunoprecipitation experiments performed with infected cells and two different monoclonal antibodies, one specific for the N form of G and one which recognizes both the N and the I states, suggest that G is transported in an I state-like conformation through the Golgi apparatus and acquires its N structure only near or at the cell surface. We propose that the role of the I state is to avoid unspecific fusion during transport of G in the acidic Golgi vesicles.

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