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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Coronavirus-induced membrane fusion requires the cysteine-rich domain in the spike protein.

The spike glycoprotein of mouse hepatitis virus strain A59 mediates the early events leading to infection of cells, including fusion of the viral and cellular membranes. The spike is a type I membrane glycoprotein that possesses a conserved transmembrane anchor and an unusual cysteine-rich (cys) domain that bridges the putative junction of the anchor and the cytoplasmic tail. In this study, we examined the role of these carboxyl-terminal domains in spike-mediated membrane fusion. We show that the cytoplasmic tail is not required for fusion but has the capacity to enhance membrane fusion activity. Chimeric spike protein mutants containing substitutions of the entire transmembrane anchor and cys domain with the herpes simplex virus type 1 glycoprotein D (gD-1) anchor demonstrated that fusion activity requires the presence of the A59 membrane-spanning domain and the portion of the cys domain that lies upstream of the cytoplasmic tail. The cys domain is a required element since its deletion from the wild-type spike protein abrogates fusion activity. However, addition of the cys domain to fusion-defective chimeric proteins was unable to restore fusion activity. Thus, the cys domain is necessary but is not sufficient to complement the gD-1 anchor and allow for membrane fusion. Site-specific mutations of conserved cysteine residues in the cys domain markedly reduce membrane fusion, which further supports the conclusion that this region is crucial for spike function. The results indicate that the carboxyl-terminus of the spike transmembrane anchor contains at least two distinct domains, both of which are necessary for full membrane fusion.[1]


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