Glycoprotein B (gB), gD, and gH/gL constitute the fusion machinery of herpes simplex virus (HSV). Prior studies indicated that fusion occurs in a stepwise fashion whereby the gD/receptor complex activates the entire process, while gH/gL regulates the fusion reaction carried out by gB. Trimeric gB is a class III fusion protein. Its ectodomain of 773 amino acids contains a membrane-proximal region (MPR) (residues 731 to 773) and two fusion loops (FLs) per protomer. We hypothesized that the highly hydrophobic MPR interacts with the FLs, thereby masking them on virions until fusion begins. To test this hypothesis, we made a series of deletion, truncation, and point mutants of the gB MPR. Although the full-length deletion mutants were expressed in transfected cells, they were not transported to the cell surface, suggesting that removal of even small stretches of the MPR was highly detrimental to gB folding. To circumvent this limitation, we used a baculovirus expression system to generate four soluble proteins, each lacking the transmembrane region and cytoplasmic tail. All retained the FLs and decreasing portions of the MPR [gB(773t) (gB truncated at amino acid 773), gB(759t), gB(749t), and gB(739t)]. Despite the presence of the FLs, all were compromised in their ability to bind liposomes compared to the control, gB(730t), which lacks the MPR. We conclude that residues 731 to 739 are sufficient to mask the FLs, thereby preventing liposome association. Importantly, mutation of two aromatic residues (F732 and F738) to alanine restored the ability of gB(739t) to bind liposomes. Our data suggest that the MPR is important for modulating the association of gB FLs with target membranes.
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