Dengue virus infection is a growing public health problem with up to 100 million cases annually, and neither vaccines nor effective therapies are available. To search for the ways of preventing and treating dengue infections we need to better understand their molecular mechanisms. As with many other viruses, dengue virus enters cells by fusion between the viral membrane and the membrane of intracellular vesicles (endosomes). In this paper the authors explore the fusion stage of dengue virus entry in different experimental systems ranging from virus fusion to artificial lipid membranes to fusion inside the cells. While earlier work on dengue virus entry has focused on the virus protein that mediates fusion, they found that effective action of this protein requires specific lipid composition of the membrane the virus fuses to. In effect, this lipid dependence allows virus to control intracellular location of the fusion event and, thus, the place of its RNA release by exploiting cell-controlled differences between lipid compositions of different organelles the virus travels through. The essential role of the interactions between dengue virus and its lipid cofactors during virus entry suggests that these interactions may be targeted in drug design.
Dengue Virus Ensures Its Fusion in Late Endosomes Using Compartment-Specific Lipids. PLoS Pathog 6(10): e1001131. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1001131
Many enveloped viruses invade cells via endocytosis and use different environmental factors as triggers for virus-endosome fusion that delivers viral genome into cytosol. Intriguingly, dengue virus (DEN), the most prevalent mosquito-borne virus that infects up to 100 million people each year, fuses only in late endosomes, while activation of DEN protein fusogen glycoprotein E is triggered already at pH characteristic for early endosomes. Are there any cofactors that time DEN fusion to virion entry into late endosomes? Here we show that DEN utilizes bis(monoacylglycero)phosphate, a lipid specific to late endosomes, as a co-factor for its endosomal acidification-dependent fusion machinery. Effective virus fusion to plasma- and intracellular- membranes, as well as to protein-free liposomes, requires the target membrane to contain anionic lipids such as bis(monoacylglycero)phosphate and phosphatidylserine. Anionic lipids act downstream of low-pH-dependent fusion stages and promote the advance from the earliest hemifusion intermediates to the fusion pore opening. To reach anionic lipid-enriched late endosomes, DEN travels through acidified early endosomes, but we found that low pH-dependent loss of fusogenic properties of DEN is relatively slow in the presence of anionic lipid-free target membranes. We propose that anionic lipid-dependence of DEN fusion machinery protects it against premature irreversible restructuring and inactivation and ensures viral fusion in late endosomes, where the virus encounters anionic lipids for the first time during entry. Currently there are neither vaccines nor effective therapies for DEN, and the essential role of the newly identified DEN-bis(monoacylglycero)phosphate interactions in viral genome escape from the endosome suggests a novel target for drug design.