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J Mol Biol. 2000 Jan 14;295(2):155-61.

Cryomicroscopy of human cytomegalovirus virions reveals more densely packed genomic DNA than in herpes simplex virus type 1.

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Medical Research Council Virology Unit, Church Street, Glasgow, G11 5JR, United Kingdom.


All members of the herpesvirus family have a characteristic virion structure, comprising a DNA containing, icosahedral capsid, embedded in a proteinaceous layer (tegument) and surrounded by a lipid envelope. Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV, the prototypic beta-herpesvirus) has a genome that is significantly larger (>50 %) than that of the alpha-herpesvirus HSV-1. Although the internal volume of the HCMV capsid is approximately 17 % larger than that of HSV-1, this slight increase in volume does not provide adequate space to encapsidate the full length HCMV genome at the same packing density as HSV-1. We have investigated the nature of DNA packing in HCMV and HSV-1 virions by electron-cryomicroscopy and image processing. Radial density profiles calculated from projection images of HCMV and HSV-1 capsids suggest that there is no increase in the volume of the HCMV capsid upon DNA packaging. Packing density of the viral DNA was assessed for both HCMV and HSV-1 by image analysis of both full and empty particles. Our results for packing density in HSV-1 are in good agreement with previously published measurements, showing an average inter-layer spacing of approximately 26 A. Measurements taken from our HCMV images, however, suggest that the viral genomic DNA is more densely packed, with an average inter-layer spacing of approximately 23 A. We propose therefore, that the combination of greater volume in HCMV capsids and increased packing density of viral DNA accounts for its ability to encapsidate a large genome.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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