At low pH, the hemagglutinin (HA) of influenza virus undergoes an irreversible conformational change that potentiates its essential membrane fusion function. We have probed the details of this conformational change using a panel of 14 anti-HA-peptide antibodies. Whereas some antibodies reacted equally well with both the neutral and low-pH HA conformations, others reacted to a significantly greater extent with the low-pH form. The locations of the peptides recognized by the latter antibodies in the three-dimensional HA structure indicated regions of the protein that change in response to low pH. Moreover, kinetic experiments suggested steps in the conformational change. In addition to their relevance to membrane fusion, our results show that anti-peptide antibodies can be used to study some types of biologically important protein conformational changes.

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