Representatives of three families of enveloped viruses were shown to fuse tissue culture cells together. These were: Semliki Forest virus (SFV, a togavirus), vesicular stomatitis virus (a rhabdovirus), and two myxoviruses, fowl plaque virus and Japan influenza virus (Japan)/A/305/57). Unlike paramyxoviruses, whose fusion activity is known to occur over a broad pH range, fusion by these viruses was restricted to mildly acidic pH. The pH thresholds for the four viruses were 6.0, 6.1, 5.5, and 5.1, respectively. The precursor form of Japan influenza, which is not infectious and which contains the uncleaved hemagglutinin, had no fusion activity. This result suggested a role for the influenza hemagglutinin in the low-pH-dependent membrane fusion activity. Taken together, our results show that low-pH-induced fusion is a widespread property of enveloped animal viruses and that it may play a role in the infective process. The fusion reactions with all four viruses were fast, efficient, and easy to induce. With UV-inactivated SFV, the fusion was shown to be nonlytic and the polykaryons were viable for at least 12 h. 30 ng of SFV/1 x 10(6) BHK-21 cells were required for 50% fusion, and 250 ng sufficed to fuse the entire culture into a single polykaryon.

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