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Influenza A M2 is a membrane-associated protein with a C-terminal amphipathic helix that plays a cholesterol-dependent role in viral budding. An M2 mutant with alanine substitutions in the C-terminal amphipathic helix is deficient in viral scission. With the goal of providing atomic-level understanding of how the wild-type protein functions, we used a multipronged site-directed spin labeling electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy (SDSL-EPR) approach to characterize the conformational properties of the alanine mutant. We spin-labeled sites in the transmembrane (TM) domain and the C-terminal amphipathic helix (AH) of wild-type (WT) and mutant M2, and collected information on line shapes, relaxation rates, membrane topology, and distances within the homotetramer in membranes with and without cholesterol. Our results identify marked differences in the conformation and dynamics between the WT and the alanine mutant. Compared to WT, the dominant population of the mutant AH is more dynamic, shallower in the membrane, and has altered quaternary arrangement of the C-terminal domain. While the AH becomes more dynamic, the dominant population of the TM domain of the mutant is immobilized. The presence of cholesterol changes the conformation and dynamics of the WT protein, while the alanine mutant is insensitive to cholesterol. These findings provide new insight into how M2 may facilitate budding. We propose the AH–membrane interaction modulates the arrangement of the TM helices, effectively stabilizing a conformational state that enables M2 to facilitate viral budding. Antagonizing the properties of the AH that enable interdomain coupling within M2 may therefore present a novel strategy for anti-influenza drug design.


This work has been provided to PubMed Central courtesy of the American Chemical Society.

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