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Mol Microbiol. 2003 Sep;49(5):1201-12.

Specific targeting of a DNA-binding protein to the SPP1 procapsid by interaction with the portal oligomer.

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Max-Planck Institut für Molekulare Genetik, Ihnestrasse 73, D-14195 Berlin, Germany.


The icosahedral procapsid of tailed bacteriophages is composed of a large number of identical subunits and of minor proteins found in a few copies. Proteins present in a very low copy number are targeted to the viral procapsid by an unknown mechanism. Bacteriophage SPP1 procapsids and mature virions contain two copies of gp7 on average. Gp7 forms stable complexes with the SPP1 portal protein gp6. Deletion of the gp6 carboxyl-terminus and the mutation Y467-->C localized in the same region prevent gp6-gp7 complex formation. Gp7 binds double-stranded and single-stranded DNA. Gp6 competes for this interaction, and purified gp6-gp7 complexes do not bind DNA. Procapsid structures assembled in the absence of gp6 or carrying the mutant gp6 Y467-->C lack gp7. The gp6-gp7 interaction thus targets gp7 to the procapsid where the portal protein is localized asymmetrically at a single vertex of the icosahedral structure. The interaction between the two proteins is disrupted during viral assembly. Proteins homologous to gp6 and gp7 are coded by contiguous genes in a variety of phage genomes from Gram-positive bacteria, suggesting that the gp6-gp7 complex is widespread in this group of phages. Transient association with the portal protein, an essential component of tailed bacteriophages and herpes viruses, provides a novel strategy to target minor proteins to the virion structure that might be operative in a large number of viruses.

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