Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is associated with infectious mononucleosis and a variety of cancers as well as lymphoproliferative disorders in immunocompromised patients. EBV mediates viral entry into epithelial and B cells using fusion machinery composed of four glycoproteins: gB, the gH/gL complex, and gp42. gB and gH/gL are required for both epithelial and B cell fusion. The specific role of gH/gL in fusion has been the most elusive among the required herpesvirus entry glycoproteins. Previous mutational studies have focused on the ectodomain of EBV gH and not on the gH cytoplasmic tail domain (CTD). In this study, we chose to examine the function of the gH CTD by making serial gH truncation mutants as well as amino acid substitution mutants to determine the importance of the gH CTD in epithelial and B cell fusion. Truncation of 8 amino acids (aa 698 to 706) of the gH CTD resulted in diminished fusion activity using a virus-free syncytium formation assay and fusion assay. The importance of the amino acid composition of the gH CTD was also investigated by amino acid substitutions that altered the hydrophobicity or hydrophilicity of the CTD. These mutations also resulted in diminished fusion activity. Interestingly, some of the gH CTD truncation mutants and hydrophilic tail substitution mutants lost the ability to bind to gp42 and epithelial cells. In summary, our studies indicate that the gH CTD is an important functional domain. IMPORTANCE Infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) causes diseases ranging from the fairly benign infectious mononucleosis to life-threatening cancer. Entry into target cells is the first step for viral infection and is important for EBV to cause disease. Understanding the EBV entry mechanism is useful for the development of infection inhibitors and developing EBV vaccine approaches. Epithelial and B cells are the main target cells for EBV infection. The essential glycoproteins for EBV entry include gB, gH/gL, and gp42. We characterized the function of the EBV gH C-terminal cytoplasmic tail domain (CTD) in fusion using a panel of gH CTD truncation or substitution mutants. We found that the gH CTD regulates fusion by altering gp42 and epithelial cell attachment. Our studies may lead to a better understanding of EBV fusion and entry, which may result in novel therapies that target the EBV entry step.
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