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      Acid Stability of the Hemagglutinin Protein Regulates H5N1 Influenza Virus Pathogenicity

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          Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses of the H5N1 subtype continue to threaten agriculture and human health. Here, we use biochemistry and x-ray crystallography to reveal how amino-acid variations in the hemagglutinin (HA) protein contribute to the pathogenicity of H5N1 influenza virus in chickens. HA proteins from highly pathogenic (HP) A/chicken/Hong Kong/YU562/2001 and moderately pathogenic (MP) A/goose/Hong Kong/437-10/1999 isolates of H5N1 were found to be expressed and cleaved in similar amounts, and both proteins had similar receptor-binding properties. However, amino-acid variations at positions 104 and 115 in the vestigial esterase sub-domain of the HA1 receptor-binding domain (RBD) were found to modulate the pH of HA activation such that the HP and MP HA proteins are activated for membrane fusion at pH 5.7 and 5.3, respectively. In general, an increase in H5N1 pathogenicity in chickens was found to correlate with an increase in the pH of HA activation for mutant and chimeric HA proteins in the observed range of pH 5.2 to 6.0. We determined a crystal structure of the MP HA protein at 2.50 Å resolution and two structures of HP HA at 2.95 and 3.10 Å resolution. Residues 104 and 115 that modulate the acid stability of the HA protein are situated at the N- and C-termini of the 110-helix in the vestigial esterase sub-domain, which interacts with the B loop of the HA2 stalk domain. Interactions between the 110-helix and the stalk domain appear to be important in regulating HA protein acid stability, which in turn modulates influenza virus replication and pathogenesis. Overall, an optimal activation pH of the HA protein is found to be necessary for high pathogenicity by H5N1 influenza virus in avian species.

          Author Summary

          To deliver their genomes into host cells during entry, enveloped viruses contain glycoproteins that bind to cellular receptors and cause fusion of viral and cellular membranes. The influenza virus HA protein is the archetypal viral fusion glycoprotein, promoting entry by undergoing irreversible structural changes that drive membrane merger. HA trimers on the surfaces of infectious influenza virions are trapped in a metastable, high-energy conformation and are triggered to refold and cause membrane fusion after the virus is internalized and exposed to low pH. Here, we provide biochemical and x-ray crystallographic evidence that naturally occurring amino-acid variations at the interface of the vestigial esterase and fusogenic stalk domains alter HA acid stability for highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza, resulting in a shift in the threshold pH required to activate HA protein structural changes that cause membrane fusion. Furthermore, our data reveals that an increased HA activation pH correlates with increased H5N1 virulence in chickens. Overall, the acid stability of the HA protein is identified as a novel virulence factor for emerging H5N1 influenza viruses. A major implication of this work is that the fitness of enveloped viruses may be fine-tuned by mutations that alter the activation energy thresholds of their fusion glycoproteins.

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          Most cited references 37

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          Receptor binding and membrane fusion in virus entry: the influenza hemagglutinin.

          Hemagglutinin (HA) is the receptor-binding and membrane fusion glycoprotein of influenza virus and the target for infectivity-neutralizing antibodies. The structures of three conformations of the ectodomain of the 1968 Hong Kong influenza virus HA have been determined by X-ray crystallography: the single-chain precursor, HA0; the metastable neutral-pH conformation found on virus, and the fusion pH-induced conformation. These structures provide a framework for designing and interpreting the results of experiments on the activity of HA in receptor binding, the generation of emerging and reemerging epidemics, and membrane fusion during viral entry. Structures of HA in complex with sialic acid receptor analogs, together with binding experiments, provide details of these low-affinity interactions in terms of the sialic acid substituents recognized and the HA residues involved in recognition. Neutralizing antibody-binding sites surround the receptor-binding pocket on the membrane-distal surface of HA, and the structures of the complexes between neutralizing monoclonal Fabs and HA indicate possible neutralization mechanisms. Cleavage of the biosynthetic precursor HA0 at a prominent loop in its structure primes HA for subsequent activation of membrane fusion at endosomal pH (Figure 1). Priming involves insertion of the fusion peptide into a charged pocket in the precursor; activation requires its extrusion towards the fusion target membrane, as the N terminus of a newly formed trimeric coiled coil, and repositioning of the C-terminal membrane anchor near the fusion peptide at the same end of a rod-shaped molecule. Comparison of this new HA conformation, which has been formed for membrane fusion, with the structures determined for other virus fusion glycoproteins suggests that these molecules are all in the fusion-activated conformation and that the juxtaposition of the membrane anchor and fusion peptide, a recurring feature, is involved in the fusion mechanism. Extension of these comparisons to the soluble N-ethyl-maleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptor (SNARE) protein complex of vesicle fusion allows a similar conclusion.
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            Positional effect of single bulge nucleotide on PNA(peptide nucleic acid)/DNA hybrid stability

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              Structure and receptor specificity of the hemagglutinin from an H5N1 influenza virus.

              The hemagglutinin (HA) structure at 2.9 angstrom resolution, from a highly pathogenic Vietnamese H5N1 influenza virus, is more related to the 1918 and other human H1 HAs than to a 1997 duck H5 HA. Glycan microarray analysis of this Viet04 HA reveals an avian alpha2-3 sialic acid receptor binding preference. Introduction of mutations that can convert H1 serotype HAs to human alpha2-6 receptor specificity only enhanced or reduced affinity for avian-type receptors. However, mutations that can convert avian H2 and H3 HAs to human receptor specificity, when inserted onto the Viet04 H5 HA framework, permitted binding to a natural human alpha2-6 glycan, which suggests a path for this H5N1 virus to gain a foothold in the human population.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS Pathog
                PLoS Pathogens
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                December 2011
                December 2011
                1 December 2011
                : 7
                : 12
                [1 ]Department of Structural Biology, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee United States of America
                [2 ]Department of Infectious Diseases, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, United States of America
                [3 ]Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Biochemistry, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, Tennessee, United States of America
                Institut Pasteur, France
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: HZ, RMD, SWW, CJR. Performed the experiments: HZ RMD. Analyzed the data: HZ RMD SWW CJR. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: MR RJH. Wrote the paper: HZ RMD SWW CJR.

                DuBois et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 11
                Research Article
                Cell Membrane
                Membrane Proteins
                Protein Structure
                Viral Structure
                Infectious Diseases
                Viral Diseases

                Infectious disease & Microbiology


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