X-ray Structures of the Post-fusion 6-Helix Bundle of the Human Syncytins and their Functional Implications.
ABSTRACT: The retroviral envelope-derived proteins syncytin-1 and syncytin-2 (syn1 and syn2) drive placentation in humans by forming a syncytiotophoblast, a structure allowing for an exchange interface between maternal and fetal blood during pregnancy. Despite their essential role, little is known about the molecular mechanism underlying the syncytins' function. We report here the X-ray structures of the syn1 and syn2 transmembrane subunit ectodomains, featuring a 6-helix bundle (6HB) typical of the post-fusion state of gamma-retrovirus and filovirus fusion proteins. Contrary to the filoviruses, for which the fusion glycoprotein was crystallized both in the post-fusion and in the spring-loaded pre-fusion form, the highly unstable nature of the syncytins' prefusion form has precluded structural studies. We undertook a proline-scanning approach searching for regions in the syn1 6HB central helix that tolerate the introduction of helix-breaker residues and still fold correctly in the pre-fusion form. We found that there is indeed such a region, located two ?-helical turns downstream a stutter in the central coiled-coil helix - precisely where the breaks of the spring-loaded helix of the filoviruses map. These mutants were fusion-inactive as they cannot form the 6HB, similar to the "SOSIP" mutant of HIV Env that allowed the high-resolution structural characterization of its labile pre-fusion form. These results now open a new window of opportunity to engineer more stable variants of the elusive pre-fusion trimer of the syncytins and other gamma-retroviruses envelope proteins for structural characterization.
Project description:While common in viral infections and neoplasia, spontaneous cell-cell fusion, or syncytialization, is quite restricted in healthy tissues. Such fusion is essential to human placental development, where interactions between trophoblast-specific human endogenous retroviral (HERV) envelope proteins, called syncytins, and their widely-distributed cell surface receptors are centrally involved. We have identified the first host cell-encoded protein that inhibits cell fusion in mammals. Like the syncytins, this protein, called suppressyn, is HERV-derived, placenta-specific and well-conserved over simian evolution. In vitro, suppressyn binds to the syn1 receptor and inhibits syn1-, but not syn2-mediated trophoblast syncytialization. Suppressyn knock-down promotes cell-cell fusion in trophoblast cells and cell-associated and secreted suppressyn binds to the syn1 receptor, ASCT2. Identification of the first host cell-encoded inhibitor of mammalian cell fusion may encourage improved understanding of cell fusion mechanisms, of placental morphogenesis and of diseases resulting from abnormal cell fusion.
Project description:BACKGROUND:The native pre-fusion structure of gp120/gp41 complex of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 was recently revealed. In the model, the helices of gp41 (?6, ?7, ?8, and ?9) form a four-helix collar underneath trimeric gp120. Gp41 is a class I fusion protein and mediates membrane fusion by forming a post-fusion structure called the six-helix bundle (6HB). The comparison of the pre- and post-fusion structures revealed the large conformational changes in gp41 during the antiparallel packing of the N- and C-terminal heptad repeats (NHRs and CHRs) in membrane fusion. Several mutagenesis studies of gp41 performed in the past were interpreted based on 6HB, the only available structure at that time. To obtain an insight about the current pre-fusion structural model and conformational changes during membrane fusion, alanine insertion mutagenesis of the NHR, CHR and connecting loop regions of HXB2 gp41 was performed. The effects of mutations on biosynthesis and membrane fusion were analyzed by immunoblotting and fusion assays, respectively. The extent of membrane fusion was evaluated by split luciferase-based pore formation and syncytia formation assays, respectively. RESULTS:Consistent with the current structural model, drastic negative effects of mutations on biosynthesis and membrane fusion were observed for NHR, loop, and proximal regions of CHR (up to amino acid position 643). The insertions in ?9 after it leaves the four-helix collar were tolerable for biosynthesis. These CHR mutants showed varying effects on membrane fusion. Insertion at position 644 or 645 resulted in poor pore and syncytia formation. Efficient pore and syncytia formation almost similar to that of the wild type was observed for insertion at position 647, 648 or 649. However, recovery of virus infectivity was only observed for the insertions beyond position 648. CONCLUSIONS:The mutagenesis data for HXB2 gp41 is in agreement with the recent pre-fusion structure model. The virus infection data suggested that fusion pores sufficiently large enough for the release of the virus genome complex are formed after the completion of 6HB beyond position 648.
Project description:Syncytin is a captive retroviral envelope protein, possibly involved in the formation of the placental syncytiotrophoblast layer generated by trophoblast cell fusion at the maternal-fetal interface. We found that syncytin and type I viral envelope proteins shared similar structural profiling, especially in the regions of N- and C-terminal heptad repeats (NHR and CHR). We expressed the predicted regions of NHR (41aa) and CHR (34aa) in syncytin as a native single chain (named 2-helix protein) to characterize it. 2-Helix protein exists as a trimer and is highly alpha-helix, thermo-stable, and denatured by low pH. NHR and CHR could form a protease-resistant complex. The complex structure built by the molecular docking demonstrated that NHR and CHR associated in an antiparallel manner. Overall, the 2-helix protein could form a thermo-stable coiled coil trimer. The fusion core structure of syncytin was first demonstrated in endogenous retrovirus. These results support the explanation how syncytin mediates cytotrophoblast cell fusion involved in placental morphogenesis.
Project description:Syncytins are envelope genes from endogenous retroviruses, "captured" for a role in placentation. They mediate cell-cell fusion, resulting in the formation of a syncytium (the syncytiotrophoblast) at the fetomaternal interface. These genes have been found in all placental mammals in which they have been searched for. Cell-cell fusion is also pivotal for muscle fiber formation and repair, where the myotubes are formed from the fusion of mononucleated myoblasts into large multinucleated structures. Here we show, taking advantage of mice knocked out for syncytins, that these captured genes contribute to myoblast fusion, with a >20% reduction in muscle mass, mean muscle fiber area and number of nuclei per fiber in knocked out mice for one of the two murine syncytin genes. Remarkably, this reduction is only observed in males, which subsequently show muscle quantitative traits more similar to those of females. In addition, we show that syncytins also contribute to muscle repair after cardiotoxin-induced injury, with again a male-specific effect on the rate and extent of regeneration. Finally, ex vivo experiments carried out on murine myoblasts demonstrate the direct involvement of syncytins in fusion, with a >40% reduction in fusion index upon addition of siRNA against both syncytins. Importantly, similar effects are observed with primary myoblasts from sheep, dog and human, with a 20-40% reduction upon addition of siRNA against the corresponding syncytins. Altogether, these results show a direct contribution of the fusogenic syncytins to myogenesis, with a demonstrated male-dependence of the effect in mice, suggesting that these captured genes could be responsible for the muscle sexual dimorphism observed in placental mammals.
Project description:We have previously demonstrated that the envelope proteins of a murine and primate retrovirus are immunosuppressive in vivo. This property was manifested by the ability of the proteins, when expressed by allogeneic tumor cells normally rejected by engrafted mice, to have the env-expressing cells escape (at least transiently) immune rejection. Here, we analyzed the immunosuppressive activity of the human and murine syncytins. These are envelope genes from endogenous retroviruses independently coopted by ancestral hosts, conserved in evolution, specifically expressed in the placenta, and with a cell-cell fusogenic activity likely contributing to placenta morphogenesis. We show that in both humans and mice, one of the two syncytins (human syncytin-2 and mouse syncytin-B) is immunosuppressive and, rather unexpectedly, the other (human syncytin-1 and mouse syncytin-A) is not (albeit able to induce cell-cell fusion). Delineation of the immunosuppressive domain by deletion analysis, combined with a comparison between immunosuppressive and nonimmunosuppressive sequences, allowed us to derive a mutation rule targeted to specific amino acids, resulting in selective switch from immunosuppressive to nonimmunosuppressive envelope proteins and vice versa. These results unravel a critical function of retroviral envelopes, not necessarily "individually" selected for in the retrovirus endogenization process, albeit "tandemly" conserved in evolution for the syncytin pairs in primates and Muridae. Selective inactivation of immunosuppression, under conditions not affecting fusogenicity, should be important for understanding the role of this function in placental physiology and maternofetal tolerance.
Project description:Human respiratory syncytial virus (hRSV) typically affects newborns and young children. Even though it can cause severe and, in some cases, lifelong respiratory infections, there are currently no Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved therapeutics that control this virus. The hRSV F protein facilitates viral fusion, a critical extracellular event that can be targeted for therapeutic intervention by disrupting the assembly of a postfusion 6-helix bundle (6HB) within the hRSV F protein. Here we report the development of a fluorescence polarization (FP) assay using an engineered hRSV F protein 5-helix bundle (5HB). We generated the 5HB and validated its ability to form a 6HB in an FP assay. To test the potential of 5HB as a screening tool, we then investigated a series of truncated peptides derived from the "missing" sixth helix. Using this FP-based 5HB system, we have successfully demonstrated that short peptides can prevent 6HB formation and serve as potential hRSV fusion inhibitors. We anticipate that this new 5HB system will provide an effective tool to identify and study potential antivirals to control hRSV infection.
Project description:Paramyxovirus entry into cells requires fusion of the viral and cell membranes mediated by one of the major virus glycoproteins, the fusion (F) glycoprotein which transits from a metastable pre-fusion conformation to a highly stable post-fusion structure during the membrane fusion process. F protein refolding involves large conformational changes of the protein trimer. One of these changes results in assembly of two heptad repeat sequences (HRA and HRB) from each protomer into a six-helix bundle (6HB) motif. To assist in distinguishing pre- and post-fusion conformations of the Pneumovirinae F proteins, and as extension of previous work (Palomo et al., 2014), a general strategy was designed to obtain polyclonal and particularly monoclonal antibodies specific of the 6HB motif of the Pneumovirinae fusion protein. The antibodies reported here should assist in the characterization of the structural changes that the F protein of human metapneumovirus or respiratory syncytial virus experiences during the process of membrane fusion.
Project description:Cell fusions are important to fertilization, placentation, development of skeletal muscle and bone, calcium homeostasis and the immune defense system. Additionally, cell fusions participate in tissue repair and may be important to cancer development and progression. A large number of factors appear to regulate cell fusions, including receptors and ligands, membrane domain organizing proteins, proteases, signaling molecules and fusogenic proteins forming alpha-helical bundles that bring membranes close together. The syncytin family of proteins represent true fusogens and the founding member, syncytin-1, has been documented to be involved in fusions between placental trophoblasts, between cancer cells and between cancer cells and host cells. We review the literature with emphasis on the syncytin family and propose that syncytins may represent universal fusogens in primates and rodents, which work together with a number of other proteins to regulate the cell fusion machinery.
Project description:The paramyxovirus F protein is a class I viral membrane fusion protein which undergoes a significant refolding transition during virus entry. Previous studies of the Newcastle disease virus, human parainfluenza virus 3 and parainfluenza virus 5 F proteins revealed differences in the pre- and post-fusion structures. The NDV Queensland (Q) F structure lacked structural elements observed in the other two structures, which are key to the refolding and fusogenic activity of F. Here we present the NDV Australia-Victoria (AV) F protein post-fusion structure and provide EM evidence for its folding to a pre-fusion form. The NDV AV F structure contains heptad repeat elements missing in the previous NDV Q F structure, forming a post-fusion six-helix bundle (6HB) similar to the post-fusion hPIV3 F structure. Electrostatic and temperature factor analysis of the F structures points to regions of these proteins that may be functionally important in their membrane fusion activity.
Project description:An increasing number of genes predisposing to autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has been identified, many of which are implicated in synaptic function. This 'synaptic autism pathway' notably includes disruption of SYN1 that is associated with epilepsy, autism and abnormal behavior in both human and mice models. Synapsins constitute a multigene family of neuron-specific phosphoproteins (SYN1-3) present in the majority of synapses where they are implicated in the regulation of neurotransmitter release and synaptogenesis. Synapsins I and II, the major Syn isoforms in the adult brain, display partially overlapping functions and defects in both isoforms are associated with epilepsy and autistic-like behavior in mice. In this study, we show that nonsense (A94fs199X) and missense (Y236S and G464R) mutations in SYN2 are associated with ASD in humans. The phenotype is apparent in males. Female carriers of SYN2 mutations are unaffected, suggesting that SYN2 is another example of autosomal sex-limited expression in ASD. When expressed in SYN2 ?knockout neurons, wild-type human Syn II fully rescues the SYN2 knockout phenotype, whereas the nonsense mutant is not expressed and the missense mutants are virtually unable to modify the SYN2 knockout phenotype. These results identify for the first time SYN2 ?as a novel predisposing gene for ASD and strengthen the hypothesis that a disturbance of synaptic homeostasis underlies ASD.