Quantitation of the glycoprotein spike area on the surface of enveloped viruses

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The density of glycoprotein (GP) distribution on the virion surface substantially influences the virus infectivity and pathogenicity. A method to quantitatively determine the area occupied by surface GP spikes was proposed for influenza virus (Flu) strain A/PR/8/34 on the basis of data of tritium bombardment and dynamic light scattering. The latter was used to measure the diameter of intact virions and subviral particles (Flu virions lacking GP spikes after bromelain digestion). Intact virions and subviral particles were bombarded with a hot tritium atom flux, and the specific radioactivity of the matrix M1 protein was analyzed. The tritium label was incorporated into the amino acid residues of a thin exposed protein layer and partly penetrated through the lipid bilayer of the viral envelope, labeling M1, located under the lipid bilayer. The tritium label distribution among different amino acid residues was the same in M1 isolated from subviral particles and M1 isolated from intact virions, demonstrating that the M1 spatial structure remained unchanged during proteolysis of GP spikes. The difference in specific radioactivity between the M1 proteins isolated from intact virions and subviral particles was used to calculate the GP-free portion of the viral surface. Approximating the Flu virion as a sphere, the GP-covered area was estimated at 1.4 × 104 nm2, about 40% of the total virion surface. This was consistent with the cryoelectron tomography data published for Flu strain A/X-31. The approach can be applied for other enveloped high pathogenic viruses, such as HIV and the Ebola virus.

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