Energetics of the loop-to-helix transition leading to the coiled-coil structure of influenza virus hemagglutinin HA2 subunits
Q. Huang, T. Korte, S. Rachakonda, E. W. Knapp, A. Herrmann – 2009
Fusion of influenza virus with the endosomal membrane of the host cell is mediated by the homotrimer-organized glycoprotein hemagglutinin (HA). Its fusion activity is triggered by a low pH-mediated conformational change affecting the structure of the HA1 and HA2 subunits. The HA2 subunits undergo a loop-to-helix transition leading to a coiled-coil structure, a highly conserved motif for many fusion mediating viral proteins. However, experimental studies showed that the HA2 coiled-coil structure is stable at neutral and low pH, implying that there is no direct relationship between low pH and the HA2 loop-to-helix transition. To interpret this observation, we used a computational approach based on the dielectric continuum solvent model to explore the influence of water and pH on the free energy change of the transition. The computations showed that the electrostatic interaction between HA2 fragments and water is the major driving force of the HA2 loop-to-helix transition leading to the coiled-coil structure, as long as the HA1 globular domain covering the HA2 subunits in the nonfusion competent conformation is reorganized and thereby allows water molecules to interact with the whole loop segments of the HA2 subunits. Moreover, we show that the energy released by the loop-to-helix transition may account for those energies required for driving the subsequent steps of membrane fusion. Such a water-driven process may resemble a general mechanism for the formation of the highly conserved coiled-coil motif of enveloped viruses.