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Oligomeric rearrangement of tick-borne encephalitis virus envelope proteins induced by an acidic pH.

  • S L Allison
  • J Schalich
  • K Stiasny
  • C W Mandl
  • C Kunz
  • F X Heinz
Publication Date
Feb 01, 1995
  • Biology
  • Chemistry


The flavivirus envelope protein E undergoes irreversible conformational changes at a mildly acidic pH which are believed to be necessary for membrane fusion in endosomes. In this study we used a combination of chemical cross-linking and sedimentation analysis to show that the envelope proteins of the flavivirus tick-borne encephalitis virus also change their oligomeric structure when exposed to a mildly acidic environment. Under neutral or slightly alkaline conditions, protein E on the surface of native virions exists as a homodimer which can be isolated by solubilization with the nonionic detergent Triton X-100. Solubilization with the same detergent after pretreatment at an acidic pH, however, yielded homotrimers rather than homodimers, suggesting that exposure to an acidic pH had induced a simultaneous weakening of dimeric contacts and a strengthening of trimeric ones. The pH threshold for the dimer-to-trimer transition was found to be 6.5. Because the pH dependence of this transition parallels that of previously observed changes in the conformation and hydrophobicity of protein E and that of virus-induced membrane fusion, it appears likely that the mechanism of fusion with endosomal membranes involves a specific rearrangement of the proteins in the viral envelope. Immature virions in which protein E is associated with the uncleaved precursor (prM) of the membrane protein M did not undergo a low-pH-induced rearrangement. This is consistent with a protective role of protein prM for protein E during intracellular transport of immature virions through acidic compartments of the trans-Golgi network.

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