Conformational changes in the Ebola virus membrane fusion machine induced by pH, Ca<sup>2+</sup>, and receptor binding

by Dibyendu Kumar Das, Uriel Bulow, William E. Diehl, Natasha D. Durham, Fernando Senjobe, Kartik Chandran, Jeremy Luban, James B. Munro

The Ebola virus (EBOV) envelope glycoprotein (GP) is a membrane fusion machine required for virus entry into cells. Following endocytosis of EBOV, the GP1 domain is cleaved by cellular cathepsins in acidic endosomes, removing the glycan cap and exposing a binding site for the Niemann-Pick C1 (NPC1) receptor. NPC1 binding to cleaved GP1 is required for entry. How this interaction translates to GP2 domain-mediated fusion of viral and endosomal membranes is not known. Here, using a bulk fluorescence dequenching assay and single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET)-imaging, we found that acidic pH, Ca2+, and NPC1 binding synergistically induce conformational changes in GP2 and permit virus-liposome lipid mixing. Acidic pH and Ca2+ shifted the GP2 conformational equilibrium in favor of an intermediate state primed for NPC1 binding. Glycan cap cleavage on GP1 enabled GP2 to transition from a reversible intermediate to an irreversible conformation, suggestive of the postfusion 6-helix bundle; NPC1 binding further promoted transition to the irreversible conformation. Thus, the glycan cap of GP1 may allosterically protect against inactivation of EBOV by premature triggering of GP2.

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