Fusion of mature HIV-1 particles leads to complete release of a gag-GFP-based content marker and raises the intraviral pH.
Padilla-Parra S., Marin M., Gahlaut N., Suter R., Kondo N., Melikyan GB.
By imaging the release of a GFP-based viral content marker produced upon virus maturation, we have previously found that HIV-1 fuses with endosomes. In contrast, fusion at the cell surface did not progress beyond a lipid mixing stage (hemifusion). However, recent evidence suggesting that free GFP can be trapped within the mature HIV-1 capsid raises concerns that this content marker may not be released immediately after the formation of a fusion pore. To determine whether a significant portion of GFP is trapped in the mature capsid, we first permeabilized the viral membrane with saponin. The overwhelming majority of pseudoviruses fully released GFP while the remaining particles exhibited partial loss or no loss of content. The extent of GFP release correlated with HIV-1 maturation, implying that incomplete Gag processing, but not GFP entrapment by mature capsids, causes partial content release. Next, we designed a complementary assay for visualizing pore formation by monitoring the intraviral pH with an additional pH-sensitive fluorescent marker. The loss of GFP through saponin-mediated pores was associated with a concomitant increase in the intraviral pH due to equilibration with the pH of an external buffer. We next imaged single HIV-cell fusion and found that these events were manifested in a highly correlated loss of content and increase in the intraviral pH, as it equilibrated with the cytosolic pH. Fused or saponin-permeabilized pseudoviruses that partially lost GFP did not release the remaining content marker under conditions expected to promote the capsid dissociation. We were thus unable to detect significant entrapment of GFP by the mature HIV-1 capsid. Together, our results validate the use of the GFP-based content marker for imaging single virus fusion and inferring the sites of HIV-1 entry.