Mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) uses its N-terminal domain (NTD) of the viral spike (S) protein to bind the host receptor mouse carcinoembryonic antigenrelated cell adhesion molecule 1a (mCEACAM1a) and mediate virus entry. Our previous crystal structure study of the MHV NTD/mCEACAM1a complex (G. Peng, D. Sun, K. R. Rajashankar, Z. Qian, et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108:10696 -10701, 2011, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1104306108) reveals that there are 14 residues in the NTD interacting with the receptor. However, their contribution to receptor binding and virus entry has not been fully investigated. Here we analyzed 13 out of 14 contact residues by mutagenesis and identified I22 as being essential for receptor binding and virus entry. Unexpectedly, we found that G29 was critical for the conformational changes of the S protein triggered by either receptor binding or high pH. Replacement of G29 with A, D, F, K, M, and T, to different extents, caused spontaneous dissociation of S1 from the S protein, resulting in an enhancement of high-pH-triggered receptor-independent syncytium (RIS) formation in HEK293T cells, compared to the wild type (WT). In contrast, replacement of G29 with P, a turn-prone residue with a strict conformation, hindered virus entry and conformational changes of the S protein triggered by either receptor binding or pH 8.0, suggesting that the structural turn around G29 and its flexibility are critical. Finally, stabilization of the NTD by G29P had almost no effect on pHindependent RIS induced by the Y320A mutation in the C-terminal domain (CTD) of the S1 subunit, indicating that there might be an absence of cross talk between the NTD and CTD during conformational changes of the S protein. Our study will aid in better understanding the mechanism of how conformational changes of the S protein are triggered. IMPORTANCE Binding of the MHV S protein to the receptor mCEACAM1a triggers conformational changes of S proteins, leading to the formation of a six-helix bundle and viral and cellular membrane fusion. However, the mechanism by which the conformational change of the S protein is initiated after receptor binding has not been determined. In this study, we showed that while replacement of G29, a residue at the edge of the receptor binding interface and the center of the structural turn after the β1-sheet of the S protein, with D or T triggered spontaneous conformational changes of the S protein and pH-independent RIS, the G29P mutation significantly impeded the conformational changes of S proteins triggered by either receptor binding or pH 8.0. We reason that this structural turn might be critical for conformational changes of the S protein and that altering this structural turn could initiate conformational changes of the S protein, leading to membrane fusion.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31670164, 31970171, and 81702013), the National Science and Technology Major Project (2018ZX10101-001), the CAMS Innovation Fund for Medical Sciences (2016-12M-1-014), and the CAMS general fund (2016ZX310052).
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- Coronavirus spike glycoprotein
- Initiation of conformational change
- Mouse hepatitis virus
- Receptor-independent syncytium formation
- S protein conformational change