Ebolavirus (EBOV) entry into cells requires proteolytic disassembly of the viral glycoprotein, GP. This proteolytic processing, unusually extensive for an enveloped virus entry protein, is mediated by cysteine cathepsins, a family of endosomal/lysosomal proteases. Previous work has shown that cleavage of GP by cathepsin B (CatB) is specifically required to generate a critical entry intermediate. The functions of this intermediate are not well understood. We used a forward genetic strategy to investigate this CatB-dependent step. Specifically, we generated a replication-competent recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus bearing EBOV GP as its sole entry glycoprotein and used it to select viral mutants resistant to a CatB inhibitor. We obtained mutations at six amino acid positions in GP that independently confer complete resistance. All of the mutations reside at or near the GP1-GP2 intersubunit interface in the membrane-proximal base of the prefusion GP trimer. This region forms a part of the “clamp” that holds the fusion subunit GP2 in its metastable prefusion conformation. Biochemical studies suggest that most of the mutations confer CatB independence not by altering specific cleavage sites in GP but rather by inducing conformational rearrangements in the prefusion GP trimer that dramatically enhance its susceptibility to proteolysis. The remaining mutants did not show the preceding behavior, indicating the existence of multiple mechanisms for acquiring CatB independence during
entry. Altogether, our findings suggest that CatB cleavage is required to facilitate the triggering of viral membrane fusion by destabilizing the prefusion conformation of EBOV GP.