Influenza virus particles are able to fuse with liposomes composed of negatively charged or neutral phospholipids, as shown by using fluorochrome-labelled virions and fluorescence dequenching methods. Fusion with liposomes composed of only phosphatidylcholine (PC) was dependent on the presence of cholesterol (Chol), whereas fusion with liposomes containing negatively charged phospholipids, such as phosphatidylserine (PS), or of PC and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) occurred in the absence of Chol. Fusion of influenza virions with PC:Chol liposomes was observed at pH 5.0, but not at pH 7.4, whereas a low degree of fusion with negatively charged liposomes or those containing PE was observed at pH 7.4. In addition, non-fusogenic influenza virions or HA influenza virions fused with PS- or PE-containing liposomes, especially at pH 5.0. Influenza virus particles were also able to induce the release of the fluorochrome calcein from negatively charged calcein-loaded liposomes at pH 5.0, as well as at pH 7.4, but failed to do so with PC:Chol liposomes. Lysis of PC:Chol by influenza virions was dependent on the presence of virus receptors, namely gangliosides (sialoglycolipids), and was observed only at pH 5.0. The results show that fusion of influenza virions with negatively charged or PE-containing liposomes does not reflect the biological activity of the virus needed for penetration and infection of living cells. On the other hand, fusion with PC:Chol liposomes is probably due to the activity of the viral fusion protein, the haemagglutinin glycoprotein.


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