pH-induced conformational changes in dengue virus (DENV) are critical to its ability to infect host cells. The envelope protein heterodimers that make up the viral envelope shift from a dimer to a trimer conformation at low-pH during membrane fusion. Previous studies have suggested that the ionization of histidine residues at low-pH is central to this pH-induced conformational change. We sought out to use molecular modeling with structure-based pKa prediction to provide a quantitative basis for the role of histidines in pH-induced conformational changes and identify which histidine residues were primarily responsible for this transition. We combined existing crystallographic and cryo-electron microscopy data to construct templates of the dimer and trimer conformations for the mature and immature virus. We then generated homology models for the four DENV serotypes and carried out structure-based pKa prediction using Rosetta. Our results showed that the pKa values of a subset of conserved histidines in DENV successfully capture the thermodynamics necessary to drive pH-induced conformational changes during fusion. Here, we identified the structural determinants underlying these pKa values and compare our findings with previous experimental results.
Keywords: Flavivirus; Histidine; Viral fusion; pKa shift.