Three mutations of the membrane-binding region of the Semliki Forest virus (SFV) p62 polypeptide (the precursor for virion E3 and E2) have been made by oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis of a cDNA clone encoding the SFV structural proteins. One of the mutations (A2) substitutes a Glu for an Ala in the middle of the hydrophobic stretch which spans the bilayer. A1 and A3 alter the two basic charged amino acids in the cytoplasmic domain next to the hydrophobic region. The wild-type charge cluster of Arg-Ser-Lys (+2) has been changed to Gly-Ser-Met (0;A3) or to Gly-Ser-Glu (-1;A1). The mutant p62 proteins have been analyzed both in the presence and the absence of E1, the other half of the heterodimer spike complex of SFV. The mutant proteins expressed in COS-7 cells are glycosylated and are of the expected sizes. When co-expressed with E1, all three mutants are cleaved to yield the E2 protein and transported to the surface of COS-7 cells. When expressed in the absence of E1, the mutant p62 proteins remain uncleaved but still reach the cell surface. Once at the cell surface, all three mutants, when co-expressed with E1, can promote low pH-triggered cell-cell fusion. These results show that the three mutant p62/E2 proteins are still membrane associated in a functionally unaltered way.

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