Human parainfluenza virus fusion complex glycoproteins imaged in action on authentic viral surfaces

PLoS Pathog. 2020 Sep 21;16(9):e1008883. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008883. eCollection 2020 Sep.


Infection by human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs) causes widespread lower respiratory diseases, including croup, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia, and there are no vaccines or effective treatments for these viruses. HPIV3 is a member of the Respirovirus species of the Paramyxoviridae family. These viruses are pleomorphic, enveloped viruses with genomes composed of single-stranded negative-sense RNA. During viral entry, the first step of infection, the viral fusion complex, comprised of the receptor-binding glycoprotein hemagglutinin-neuraminidase (HN) and the fusion glycoprotein (F), mediates fusion upon receptor binding. The HPIV3 transmembrane protein HN, like the receptor-binding proteins of other related viruses that enter host cells using membrane fusion, binds to a receptor molecule on the host cell plasma membrane, which triggers the F glycoprotein to undergo major conformational rearrangements, promoting viral entry. Subsequent fusion of the viral and host membranes allows delivery of the viral genetic material into the host cell. The intermediate states in viral entry are transient and thermodynamically unstable, making it impossible to understand these transitions using standard methods, yet understanding these transition states is important for expanding our knowledge of the viral entry process. In this study, we use cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) to dissect the stepwise process by which the receptor-binding protein triggers F-mediated fusion, when forming a complex with receptor-bearing membranes. Using an on-grid antibody capture method that facilitates examination of fresh, biologically active strains of virus directly from supernatant fluids and a series of biological tools that permit the capture of intermediate states in the fusion process, we visualize the series of events that occur when a pristine, authentic viral particle interacts with target receptors and proceeds from the viral entry steps of receptor engagement to membrane fusion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • HN Protein / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Parainfluenza Virus 3, Human / metabolism*
  • Parainfluenza Virus 3, Human / ultrastructure
  • Vero Cells
  • Viral Fusion Proteins / metabolism*
  • Virus Internalization*


  • HN Protein
  • Viral Fusion Proteins