Viral glycoproteins are highly variable in their primary structure, but on the other hand feature a high functional conservation to fulfil their versatile tasks during the pathogenic life cycle. Typically, all protein domains are optimized in that indispensable functions can be assigned to small conserved motifs or even individual amino acids. The cytoplasmic tail of many viral spike proteins, although of particular relevance for the virus biology, is often only insufficiently characterized. Hemagglutinin (HA), the receptor-binding protein of the influenza virus comprises a short cytoplasmic tail of 13 amino acids that exhibits three highly conserved palmitoylation sites. However, the particular importance of these modifications and the tail in general for intracellular trafficking and lateral membrane organization remains elusive. In this study, we generated HA core proteins consisting of transmembrane domain, cytoplasmic tail and a minor part of the ectodomain, tagged with a yellow fluorescent protein. Different mutation and truncation variants of these chimeric proteins were investigated using confocal microscopy, to characterize the role of cytoplasmic tail and palmitoylation for the intracellular trafficking to plasma membrane and Golgi apparatus. In addition, we assessed raft partitioning of the variants by Foerster resonance energy transfer with an established raft marker. We revealed a substantial influence of the cytoplasmic tail length on the intracellular distribution and surface exposure of the proteins. A complete removal of the tail hampers a physiological trafficking of the protein, whereas a partial truncation can be compensated by cytoplasmic palmitoylations. Plasma membrane raft partitioning on the other hand was found to imperatively require palmitoylations, and the cysteine at position 551 turned out to be of most relevance. Our data shed further light on the tight interconnection between cytoplasmic elements and intracellular trafficking and suggest a function of HA palmitoylations in both lateral sorting and anterograde trafficking of the glycoprotein.
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.