Send to

Choose Destination
J Mol Biol. 1992 Dec 5;228(3):870-84.

Conformational changes of a viral capsid protein. Thermodynamic rationale for proteolytic regulation of bacteriophage T4 capsid expansion, co-operativity, and super-stabilization by soc binding.

Author information

Laboratory of Structural Biology, National Institute of Arthritis Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892.


We have used differential scanning calorimetry in conjunction with cryo-electron microscopy to investigate the conformational transitions undergone by the maturing capsid of phage T4. Its precursor shell is composed primarily of gp23 (521 residues): cleavage of gp23 to gp23* (residues 66 to 521) facilitates a concerted conformational change in which the particle expands substantially, and is greatly stabilized. We have now characterized the intermediate states of capsid maturation; namely, the cleaved/unexpanded, state, which denatures at tm = 60 degrees C, and the uncleaved/expanded state, for which tm = 70 degrees C. When compared with the precursor uncleaved/unexpanded state (tm = 65 degrees C), and the mature cleaved/expanded state (tm = 83 degrees C, if complete cleavage precedes expansion), it follows that expansion of the cleaved precursor (delta tm approximately +23 degrees C) is the major stabilizing event in capsid maturation. These observations also suggest an advantage conferred by capsid protein cleavage (some other phage capsids expand without cleavage): if the gp23-delta domains (residues 1 to 65) are not removed by proteolysis, they impede formation of the stablest possible bonding arrangement when expansion occurs, most likely by becoming trapped at the interface between neighboring subunits or capsomers. Icosahedral capsids denature at essentially the same temperatures as tubular polymorphic variants (polyheads) for the same state of the surface lattice. However, the thermal transitions of capsids are considerably sharper, i.e. more co-operative, than those of polyheads, which we attribute to capsids being closed, not open-ended. In both cases, binding of the accessory protein soc around the threefold sites on the outer surface of the expanded surface lattice results in a substantial further stabilization (delta tm = +5 degrees C). The interfaces between capsomers appear to be relatively weak points that are reinforced by clamp-like binding of soc. These results imply that the "triplex" proteins of other viruses (their structural counterparts of soc) are likely also to be involved in capsid stabilization. Cryo-electron microscopy was used to make conclusive interpretations of endotherms in terms of denaturation events. These data also revealed that the cleaved/unexpanded capsid has an angular polyhedral morphology and has a pronounced relief on its outer surface. Moreover, it is 14% smaller in linear dimensions than the cleaved/expanded capsid, and its shell is commensurately thicker.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center