The membrane proteins of flaviviruses form ion-permeable pores in the target membrane after fusion: identification of the pores and analysis of their possible role in virus infection.
Koschinski A., Wengler G., Wengler G., Repp H.
Recently, we presented evidence that the E1 fusion protein of the alphavirus Semliki Forest virus forms ion-permeable pores in the target membrane after fusion. We proposed that the homologous fusion proteins of flaviviruses and hepatitis C virus form similar pores. To test this hypothesis for the E fusion protein of flaviviruses, the release of [(3)H]choline from liposomes by the flavivirus West Nile (WN) virus was determined. [(3)H]Choline was released at mildly acid pH. The pH threshold depended on the lipid composition. Release from certain liposomes was activated even at neutral pH. To identify the generation of individual pores, single cells were investigated with the patch-clamp technique. The formation of individual pores during low pH-induced WN virus entry at the plasma membrane occurred within seconds. These experiments were performed in parallel with Semliki Forest virus. The results indicated that, similar to alphavirus infection, infection with flaviviruses via endosomes leads to the formation of ion-permeable pores in the endosome after fusion, which allows the flow of protons from the endosome into the cytoplasm during virus entry. However, in vitro translation experiments of viral cores showed that, in contrast to alphaviruses, which probably need this proton flow for core disassembly, the genome RNA of WN virus present in the viral core is directly accessible for translation. For entry of flaviviruses, therefore, a second pathway for productive infection may exist, in which fusion of the viral membrane is activated at neutral pH by contact with a plasma membrane of appropriate lipid composition.