Publication Details

Floyd, D. L., Harrison, S. C. & van Oijen, A. M. (2009). Method for measurement of viral fusion kinetics at the single particle level. Journal of Visualized Experiments, 31 e1484-1-e1484-5.


Membrane fusion is an essential step during entry of enveloped viruses into cells. Conventional fusion assays typically report on a large number of fusion events, making it difficult to quantitatively analyze the sequence of the molecular steps involved. We have developed an in vitro, two-color fluorescence assay to monitor kinetics of single virus particles fusing with a target bilayer on an essentially fluid support. Influenza viral particles are incubated with a green lipophilic fluorophore to stain the membrane and a red hydrophilic fluorophore to stain the viral interior. We deposit a ganglioside-containing lipid bilayer on the dextran-functionilized glass surface of a flow cell, incubate the viral particles on the planar bilayer and image the fluorescence of a 100 x 100 microm(2) area, containing several hundreds of particles, on a CCD camera. By imaging both the red and green fluorescence, we can simultaneously monitor the behavior of the membrane dye (green) and the aqueous content (red) of the particles. Upon lowering the pH to a value below the fusion pH, the particles will fuse with the membrane. Hemifusion, the merging of the outer leaflet of the viral membrane with the outer leaflet of the target membrane, will be visible as a sudden change in the green fluorescence of a particle. Upon the subsequent fusion of the two remaining distal leaflets a pore will be formed and the red-emitting fluorophore in the viral particle will be released under the target membrane. This event will give rise to a decrease of the red fluorescence of individual particles. Finally, the integrated fluorescence from a pH-sensitive fluorophore that is embedded in the target membrane reports on the exact time of the pH drop. From the three fluorescence-time traces, all the important events (pH drop, lipid mixing upon hemifusion, content mixing upon pore formation) can now be extracted in a straightforward manner and for every particle individually. By collecting the elapsed times for the various transitions for many individual particles in histograms, we can determine the lifetimes of the corresponding intermediates. Even hidden intermediates that do not have a direct fluorescent observable can be visualized directly from these histograms.

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