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Stirnnagel, Kristin; Schupp, Dorothee; Dupont, Aurelie; Kudryavtsev, Volodymyr; Reh, Juliane; Muellers, Erik; Lamb, Don C.; Lindemann, Dirk: Differential pH-dependent cellular uptake pathways among foamy viruses elucidated using dual-colored fluorescent particles. In: Retrovirology 2012, 9:71




Background: It is thought that foamy viruses (FVs) enter host cells via endocytosis because all FV glycoproteins examined display pH-dependent fusion activities. Only the prototype FV (PFV) glycoprotein has also significant fusion activity at neutral pH, suggesting that its uptake mechanism may deviate from other FVs. To gain new insights into the uptake processes of FV in individual live host cells, we developed fluorescently labeled infectious FVs. Results: N-terminal tagging of the FV envelope leader peptide domain with a fluorescent protein resulted in efficient incorporation of the fluorescently labeled glycoprotein into secreted virions without interfering with their infectivity. Double-tagged viruses consisting of an eGFP-tagged PFV capsid (Gag-eGFP) and mCherry-tagged Env (Ch-Env) from either PFV or macaque simian FV (SFVmac) were observed during early stages of the infection pathway. PFV Env, but not SFVmac Env, containing particles induced strong syncytia formation on target cells. Both virus types showed trafficking of double-tagged virions towards the cell center. Upon fusion and subsequent capsid release into the cytosol, accumulation of naked capsid proteins was observed within four hours in the perinuclear region, presumably representing the centrosomes. Interestingly, virions harboring fusion-defective glycoproteins still promoted virus attachment and uptake, but failed to show syncytia formation and perinuclear capsid accumulation. Non-fused or non-fusogenic viruses are rapidly cleared from the cells by putative lysosomal degradation. Monitoring the fraction of viruses containing both Env and capsid signals as a function of time demonstrated that PFV virions fused within the first few minutes, whereas fusion of SFVmac virions was less pronounced and observed over the entire 90 minutes measured. Conclusions: The characterized double-labeled FVs described here provide new mechanistic insights into FV early entry steps, demonstrating that productive viral fusion occurs early after target cell attachment and uptake. The analysis highlights apparent differences in the uptake pathways of individual FV species. Furthermore, the infectious double-labeled FVs promise to provide important tools for future detailed analyses on individual FV fusion events in real time using advanced imaging techniques.