The influenza virus M2 protein, target of the antiviral drugs amantadine and rimantadine, forms a proton channel which functions during virus uncoating and maturation by modifying the pH in virions as well as in trans-Golgi vesicles. We studied the influence of different ionic gradients on the inhibition of the proton translocation activity of isolated, baculovirus-expressed M2 protein reconstituted into liposomes. Two distinct patterns of inhibition were observed. A group of amphiphilic amines including amantadine, cyclooctylamine and rimantadine inhibited M2 effectively in the presence of physiological Na+ concentrations. The 10-fold greater activity of rimantadine over amantadine and the 100-fold stronger effect of cyclooctylamine compared to cyclopentylamine matched the relative activities in influenza virus-infected cells. A completely different inhibitory pattern emerged for the polyamines spermine, spermidine and putrescine. Polyamines have recently been identified as the 'intrinsic' rectifiers of a class of potassium channels and shown to interact with acidic amino acid residues lining and flanking the channel pore. In the presence of a physiological Na+/K+ gradient their minimal inhibitory concentrations for influenza virus M2 protein were 100, 400 and 500 microM, polyamine levels reported to exist in oocytes. In conditions depleted for Na+, polyamines inhibited M2 at concentrations two to three orders of magnitude lower. The data suggest that influenza virus M2 protein possesses a binding site for polyamines, distinct from the amantadine binding site, which is normally masked by Na+ and which could be targeted by selective antiviral inhibitors.


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