Herpesvirus entry into cells is mediated by the viral fusogen gB, which is thought to refold from the prefusion to the postfusion form in a series of large conformational changes that energetically couple refolding to membrane fusion. In contrast to most viral fusogens, gB requires a conserved heterodimer, gH/gL, as well as other nonconserved proteins. In a further mechanistic twist, gB-mediated cell-cell fusion appears restricted by its intraviral or cytoplasmic domain (cytodomain) because mutations within it result in a hyperfusogenic phenotype. Here, we characterized a panel of hyperfusogenic HSV-1 gB cytodomain mutants and show that they are fully functional in cell-cell fusion at shorter coincubation times and at lower temperatures than those for wild-type (WT) gB, which suggests that these mutations reduce the kinetic energy barrier to fusion. Despite this, the mutants require both gH/gL and gD. We confirm previous observations that the gH cytotail is an essential component of the cell-cell fusion mechanism and show that the N-terminal portion of the gH cytotail is critical for this process. Moreover, the fusion levels achieved by all gB constructs, WT and mutant, were proportionate to the length of the gH cytotail. Putting these results together, we propose that the gH cytotail, in addition to the gH/gL ectodomain, plays an essential role in gB activation, potentially acting as a "wedge" to release the gB cytodomain "clamp" and enable gB activation.
Importance: Herpesviruses infect their hosts for life and cause a substantial disease burden. Herpes simplex viruses cause oral and genital sores as well as rare yet severe encephalitis and a panoply of ocular ailments. Infection initiates when the viral envelope fuses with the host cell membrane in a process orchestrated by the viral fusogen gB, assisted by the viral glycoproteins gH, gL, and gD and a cellular gD receptor. This process is more complicated than that of most other viruses and is subject to multiple regulatory inputs. Antiviral and vaccine development would benefit from a detailed mechanistic knowledge of this process and how it is regulated.
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