Flaviviruses are thought to sample an ensemble of structures at equilibrium. One consequence of a structurally dynamic virion is the observed time-dependent increases in neutralization sensitivity that can occur after prolonged incubation with antibody. Differences in how virus strains "breathe" may affect epitope exposure and contribute to the underlying mechanisms of strain-dependent neutralization sensitivity. Beyond the contribution of structural dynamics, flaviviruses exist as a structurally heterogeneous population due to an inefficient virion maturation process. Here, we investigate the interplay between virion maturation and structural dynamics that contributes to antibody-mediated neutralization. Using West Nile (WNV) and dengue (DENV) viruses produced under conditions that modify the extent of virion maturation, we investigated time-dependent changes in neutralization sensitivity associated with structural dynamics. Our results identify distinct patterns of neutralization against viruses that vary markedly with respect to the extent of virion maturation. Reducing the efficiency of virion maturation resulted in greater time-dependent changes in neutralization potency and a marked reduction in the stability of the particle at 37°C compared to more mature virus. The fact that the neutralization sensitivity of WNV and DENV did not increase after prolonged incubation in the absence of antibody, regardless of virion maturation, suggests that the dynamic processes that govern epitope accessibility on infectious viruses are reversible. Against the backdrop of heterogeneous flavivirus structures, differences in the pathways by which viruses "breathe" represent an additional layer of complexity in understanding maturation state-dependent patterns of antibody recognition. Importance: Flaviviruses exist as a group of related structures at equilibrium that arise from the dynamic motion of E proteins that comprise the antigenic surface of the mature virion. This process has been characterized for numerous viruses and is referred to as viral "breathing." Additionally, flaviviruses are structurally heterogeneous due to an inefficient maturation process responsible for cleaving prM on the virion surface. Both of these mechanisms vary the exposure of antigenic sites available for antibody binding and impact the ability of antibodies to neutralize infection. We demonstrate that virions with inefficient prM cleavage "breathe" differently than their more mature counterparts, resulting in distinct patterns of neutralization sensitivity. Additionally, the maturation state was found to impact virus stability in solution. Our findings provide insight into the complex flavivirus structures that contribute to infection with the potential to impact antibody recognition.
Copyright © 2014, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.