Influenza A virus (IAV) attachment to and release from sialoside receptors is determined by the balance between hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). The molecular determinants that mediate the specificity and activity of NA are still poorly understood. In this study, we aimed to design the optimal recombinant soluble NA protein to identify residues that affect NA enzymatic activity. To this end, recombinant soluble versions of four different NA proteins from H5N1 viruses were compared with their full-length counterparts. The soluble NA ectodomains were fused to three commonly used tetramerization domains. Our results indicate that the particular oligomerization domain used does not affect the K-m value but may affect the specific enzymatic activity. This particularly holds true when the stalk domain is included and for NA ectodomains that display a low intrinsic ability to oligomerize. NA ectodomains extended with a Tetrabrachion domain, which forms a nearly parallel four-helix bundle, better mimicked the enzymatic properties of full-length proteins than when other coiled-coil tetramerization domains were used, which probably distort the stalk domain. Comparison of different NA proteins and mutagenic analysis of recombinant soluble versions thereof resulted in the identification of several residues that affected oligomerization of the NA head domain (position 95) and therefore the specific activity or sialic acid binding affinity (K-m value; positions 252 and 347). This study demonstrates the potential of using recombinant soluble NA proteins to reveal determinants of NA assembly and enzymatic activity. IMPORTANCE The IAV HA and NA glycoproteins are important determinants of host tropism and pathogenicity. However, NA is relatively understudied compared to HA. Analysis of soluble versions of these glycoproteins is an attractive way to study their activities, as they are easily purified from cell culture media and applied in downstream assays. In the present study, we analyzed the enzymatic activity of different NA ectodomains with three commonly used tetramerization domains and compared them with fulllength NA proteins. By performing a mutagenic analysis, we identified several residues that affected NA assembly, activity, and/or substrate binding. In addition, our results indicate that the design of the recombinant soluble NA protein, including the particular tetramerization domain, is an important determinant for maintaining the enzymatic properties within the head domain. NA ectodomains extended with a Tetrabrachion domain better mimicked the full-length proteins than when the other tetramerization domains were used.
2016. Vol. 90, no 20, 9457-9470 p.