Host determinant residue lysine 627 lies on the surface of a discrete, folded domain of influenza virus polymerase PB2 subunit

PLoS Pathog. 2008 Aug 29;4(8):e1000136. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000136.


Understanding how avian influenza viruses adapt to human hosts is critical for the monitoring and prevention of future pandemics. Host specificity is determined by multiple sites in different viral proteins, and mutation of only a limited number of these sites can lead to inter-species transmission. Several of these sites have been identified in the viral polymerase, the best characterised being position 627 in the PB2 subunit. Efficient viral replication at the relatively low temperature of the human respiratory tract requires lysine 627 rather than the glutamic acid variant found systematically in avian viruses. However, the molecular mechanism by which any of these host specific sites determine host range are unknown, although adaptation to host factors is frequently evoked. We used ESPRIT, a library screening method, to identify a new PB2 domain that contains a high density of putative host specific sites, including residue 627. The X-ray structure of this domain (denoted the 627-domain) exhibits a novel fold with the side-chain of Lys627 solvent exposed. The structure of the K627E mutated domain shows no structural differences but the charge reversal disrupts a striking basic patch on the domain surface. Five other recently proposed host determining sites of PB2 are also located on the 627-domain surface. The structure of the complete C-terminal region of PB2 comprising the 627-domain and the previously identified NLS-domain, which binds the host nuclear import factor importin alpha, was also determined. The two domains are found to pack together with a largely hydrophilic interface. These data enable a three-dimensional mapping of approximately half of PB2 sites implicated in cross-species transfer onto a single structural unit. Their surface location is consistent with roles in interactions with other viral proteins or host factors. The identification and structural characterization of these well-defined PB2 domains will help design experiments to elucidate the effects of mutations on polymerase-host factor interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Amino Acid Substitution*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H3N2 Subtype / enzymology*
  • Influenza A Virus, H3N2 Subtype / genetics
  • Influenza, Human / enzymology
  • Influenza, Human / genetics
  • Influenza, Human / metabolism
  • Mutation, Missense*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / genetics
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase / chemistry*
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase / genetics
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase / metabolism
  • Viral Proteins / chemistry*
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism
  • alpha Karyopherins / chemistry
  • alpha Karyopherins / metabolism


  • PB2 protein, influenza virus
  • Viral Proteins
  • alpha Karyopherins
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase