With more than 80 members worldwide, the Orthobunyavirus genus in the Peribunyaviridae family is a large genus of enveloped RNA viruses, many of which are emerging pathogens in humans and livestock. How orthobunyaviruses (OBVs) penetrate and infect mammalian host cells remains poorly characterized. Here, we investigated the entry mechanisms of the OBV Germiston (GERV). Viral particles were visualized by cryo-electron microscopy and appeared roughly spherical with an average diameter of 98 nm. Labeling of the virus with fluorescent dyes did not adversely affect its infectivity and allowed the monitoring of single particles in fixed and live cells. Using this approach, we found that endocytic internalization of bound viruses was asynchronous and occurred within 30 to 40 min. The virus entered Rab5a-positive (Rab5a+) early endosomes and, subsequently, late endosomal vacuoles containing Rab7a but not LAMP-1. Infectious entry did not require proteolytic cleavage, and endosomal acidification was sufficient and necessary for viral fusion. Acid-activated penetration began 15 to 25 min after initiation of virus internalization and relied on maturation of early endosomes to late endosomes. The optimal pH for viral membrane fusion was slightly below 6.0, and penetration was hampered when the potassium influx was abolished. Overall, our study provides real-time visualization of GERV entry into host cells and demonstrates the importance of late endosomal maturation in facilitating OBV penetration. IMPORTANCE Orthobunyaviruses (OBVs), which include La Crosse, Oropouche, and Schmallenberg viruses, represent a growing threat to humans and domestic animals worldwide. Ideally, preventing OBV spread requires approaches that target early stages of infection, i.e., virus entry. However, little is known about the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which OBVs enter and infect host cells. Here, we developed accurate, sensitive tools and assays to investigate the penetration process of GERV. Our data emphasize the central role of late endosomal maturation in GERV entry, providing a comprehensive overview of the early stages of an OBV infection. Our study also brings a complete toolbox of innovative methods to study each step of the OBV entry program in fixed and living cells, from virus binding and endocytosis to fusion and penetration. The information gained herein lays the foundation for the development of antiviral strategies aiming to block OBV entry.
Keywords: Bunyavirales; Germiston; Orthobunyaviridae; Peribunyaviridae; bunyavirus; endocytosis; late-penetrating virus; orthobunyavirus; peribunyavirus; virus entry.