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Phys Biol. 2005 Nov 9;2(4):S166-72.

Structural transitions in Cowpea chlorotic mottle virus (CCMV).

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  • 1Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA.


Viral capsids act as molecular containers for the encapsulation of genomic nucleic acid. These protein cages can also be used as constrained reaction vessels for packaging and entrapment of synthetic cargos. The icosahedral Cowpea chlorotic mottle virus (CCMV) is an excellent model for understanding the encapsulation and packaging of both genomic and synthetic materials. High-resolution structural information of the CCMV capsid has been invaluable for evaluating structure-function relationships in the assembled capsid but does not allow insight into the capsid dynamics. The dynamic nature of the CCMV capsid might play an important role in the biological function of the virus. The CCMV capsid undergoes a pH and metal ion dependent reversible structural transition where 60 separate pores in the capsid open or close, exposing the interior of the protein cage to the bulk medium. In addition, the highly basic N-terminal domain of the capsid, which is disordered in the crystal structure, plays a significant role in packaging the viral cargo. Interestingly, in limited proteolysis and mass spectrometry experiments the N-terminal domain is the first part of the subunit to be cleaved, confirming its dynamic nature. Based on our fundamental understanding of the capsid dynamics in CCMV, we have utilized these aspects to direct packaging of a range of synthetic materials including drugs and inorganic nanoparticles.

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