Two modes of fusogenic action for influenza virus fusion peptide
by Michal Michalski, Piotr SetnyThe entry of influenza virus into the host cell requires fusion of its lipid envelope with the host membrane. It is catalysed by viral hemagglutinin protein, whose fragments called fusion peptides become inserted into the target bilayer and initiate its merging with the viral membrane. Isolated fusion peptides are already capable of inducing lipid mixing between liposomes. Years of studies indicate that upon membrane binding they form bend helical structure whose degree of opening fluctuates between tightly closed hairpin and an extended boomerang. The actual way in which they initiate fusion remains elusive. In this work we employ atomistic simulations of wild type and fusion inactive W14A mutant of influenza fusion peptides confined between two closely apposed lipid bilayers. We characterise peptide induced membrane perturbation and determine the potential of mean force for the formation of the first fusion intermediate, an interbilayer lipid bridge called stalk. Our results demonstrate two routes through which the peptides can lower free energy barrier towards fusion. The first one assumes peptides capability to adopt transmembrane configuration which subsequently promotes the creation of a stalk-hole complex. The second involves surface bound peptide configuration and proceeds owing to its ability to stabilise stalk by fitting into the region of extreme negative membrane curvature resulting from its formation. In both cases, the active peptide conformation corresponds to tight helical hairpin, whereas extended boomerang geometry appears to be unable to provide favourable thermodynamic effect. The latter observation offers plausible explanation for long known inactivity of boomerang-stabilising W14A mutation.