The assembly of “complex” DNA viruses such as the herpesviruses and many tailed bacteriophages includes a DNA packaging step where the viral genome is inserted into a preformed procapsid shell. Packaging triggers a remarkable capsid expansion transition that results in thinning of the shell and an increase in capsid volume to accept the full-length genome. This transition is considered irreversible; however, here we demonstrate that the phage λ procapsid can be expanded with urea in vitro and that the transition is fully reversible. This provides an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate the thermodynamic features of this fascinating and essential step in virus assembly. We show that urea-triggered expansion is highly cooperative and strongly temperature dependent. Thermodynamic analysis indicates that the free energy of expansion is influenced by magnesium concentration (3–13 kcal/mol in the presence of 0.2–10 mM Mg 2+ ) and that significant hydrophobic surface area is exposed in the expanded shell. Conversely, Mg 2+ drives the expanded shell back to the procapsid conformation in a highly cooperative transition that is also temperature dependent and strongly influenced by urea. We demonstrate that the gpD decoration protein adds to the urea-expanded capsid, presumably at hydrophobic patches exposed at the 3-fold axes of the expanded capsid lattice. The decorated capsid is biologically active and sponsors packaging of the viral genome in vitro . The roles of divalent metal and hydrophobic interactions in controlling packaging-triggered expansion of the procapsid shell are discussed in relation to a general mechanism for DNA-triggered procapsid expansion in the complex double-stranded DNA viruses.
Journal of Molecular Biology – Elsevier
Published: May 4, 2012
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