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In Vitro Viral Evolution Identifies a Critical Residue in the Alphaherpesvirus Fusion Glycoprotein B Ectodomain That Controls gH/gL-Independent Entry

Herpesvirus entry and spread requires fusion of viral and host cell membranes, which is mediated by the conserved surface glycoprotein B (gB). Upon activation, gB undergoes a major conformational change and transits from a metastable prefusion to a stable postfusion conformation. Although gB is a structural homolog of low-pH-triggered class III fusogens, its fusion activity depends strictly on the presence of the conserved regulatory gH/gL complex and nonconserved receptor binding proteins, which ensure that fusion occurs at the right time and space. How gB maintains its prefusion conformation and how gB fusogenicity is controlled remain poorly understood. Here, we report the isolation and characterization of a naturally selected pseudorabies virus (PrV) gB able to mediate efficient gH/gL-independent virus-cell and cell-cell fusion. We found that the control exerted on gB by the accompanying viral proteins is mediated via its cytosolic domain (CTD). Whereas gB variants lacking the CTD are inactive, a single mutation of a conserved asparagine residue in an alpha-helical motif of the ectodomain recently shown to be at the core of the gB prefusion trimer compensated for CTD absence and uncoupled gB from regulatory viral proteins, resulting in a hyperfusion phenotype. This phenotype was transferred to gB homologs from different alphaherpesvirus genera. Overall, our data propose a model in which the central helix acts as a molecular switch for the gB pre-to-postfusion transition by conveying the structural status of the endo- to the ectodomain, thereby governing their cross talk for fusion activation, providing a new paradigm for herpesvirus fusion regulation.

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