Coronavirus E protein is a small viral envelope protein that plays an essential role in coronavirus assembly; coexpression of coronavirus M and E proteins results in the production of virus-like particles. The present study demonstrated that mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) E protein was released as an integral membrane protein in lipid vesicles from E-protein-expressing mammalian cells, in the absence of other MHV proteins. Furthermore, our data indicated that the E-protein-containing vesicles, which had a slightly lighter buoyant density than that of MHV, were released from MHV-infected cells. These data implied that E protein alone can drive the production and release of coronavirus envelope in the absence of M protein.
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