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Phys Rev Lett. 2003 Jun 20;90(24):248101. Epub 2003 Jun 17.

Viral self-assembly as a thermodynamic process.

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Department of Physics and Astronomy, The University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095-1569, USA.


The protein shells, or capsids, of nearly all spherelike viruses adopt icosahedral symmetry. In the present Letter, we propose a statistical thermodynamic model for viral self-assembly. We find that icosahedral symmetry is not expected for viral capsids constructed from structurally identical protein subunits and that this symmetry requires (at least) two internal "switching" configurations of the protein. Our results indicate that icosahedral symmetry is not a generic consequence of free energy minimization but requires optimization of internal structural parameters of the capsid proteins.

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