Coronavirus Particle Assembly: Primary Structure Requirements of the Membrane Protein
Journal of Virology
Coronavirus-like particles morphologically similar to normal virions are assembled when genes encoding the viral membrane proteins M and E are coexpressed in eukaryotic cells. Using this envelope assembly assay, we have studied the primary sequence requirements for particle formation of the mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) M protein, the major protein of the coronavirion membrane. Our results show that each of the different domains of the protein is important. Mutations (deletions, insertions, point
... , insertions, point mutations) in the luminal domain, the transmembrane domains, the amphiphilic domain, or the carboxy-terminal domain had effects on the assembly of M into enveloped particles. Strikingly, the extreme carboxy-terminal residue is crucial. Deletion of this single residue abolished particle assembly almost completely; most substitutions were strongly inhibitory. Site-directed mutations in the carboxy terminus of M were also incorporated into the MHV genome by targeted recombination. The results supported a critical role for this domain of M in viral assembly, although the M carboxy terminus was more tolerant of alteration in the complete virion than in virus-like particles, likely because of the stabilization of virions by additional intermolecular interactions. Interestingly, glycosylation of M appeared not essential for assembly. Mutations in the luminal domain that abolished the normal O glycosylation of the protein or created an N-glycosylated form had no effect. Mutant M proteins unable to form virus-like particles were found to inhibit the budding of assembly-competent M in a concentration-dependent manner. However, assembly-competent M was able to rescue assembly-incompetent M when the latter was present in low amounts. These observations support the existence of interactions between M molecules that are thought to be the driving force in coronavirus envelope assembly.