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Biophys J. 1999 Jun;76(6):3267-77.

Mechanism of scaffolding-directed virus assembly suggested by comparison of scaffolding-containing and scaffolding-lacking P22 procapsids.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


Assembly of certain classes of bacterial and animal viruses requires the transient presence of molecules known as scaffolding proteins, which are essential for the assembly of the precursor procapsid. To assemble a procapsid of the proper size, each viral coat subunit must adopt the correct quasiequivalent conformation from several possible choices, depending upon the T number of the capsid. In the absence of scaffolding protein, the viral coat proteins form aberrantly shaped and incorrectly sized capsids that cannot package DNA. Although scaffolding proteins do not form icosahedral cores within procapsids, an icosahedrally ordered coat/scaffolding interaction could explain how scaffolding can cause conformational differences between coat subunits. To identify the interaction sites of scaffolding protein with the bacteriophage P22 coat protein lattice, we have determined electron cryomicroscopy structures of scaffolding-containing and scaffolding-lacking procapsids. The resulting difference maps suggest specific interactions of scaffolding protein with only four of the seven quasiequivalent coat protein conformations in the T = 7 P22 procapsid lattice, supporting the idea that the conformational switching of a coat subunit is regulated by the type of interactions it undergoes with the scaffolding protein. Based on these results, we propose a model for P22 procapsid assembly that involves alternating steps in which first coat, then scaffolding subunits form self-interactions that promote the addition of the other protein. Together, the coat and scaffolding provide overlapping sets of binding interactions that drive the formation of the procapsid.

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