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J Mol Biol. 2006 Feb 17;356(2):266-73. Epub 2005 Dec 9.

Unlocking of the filamentous bacteriophage virion during infection is mediated by the C domain of pIII.

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Institute of Molecular BioSciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.


Protein III (pIII) of filamentous phage is required for both the beginning and the end of the phage life cycle. The infection starts by binding of the N-terminal N2 and N1 domains to the primary and secondary host receptors, F pilus and TolA protein, respectively, whereas the life cycle terminates by the C-terminal domain-mediated release of the membrane-anchored virion from the cell. It has been assumed that the role of the C-terminal domain of pIII in the infection is that of a tether for the receptor-binding domains N1N2 to the main body of the virion. In a poorly understood process that follows receptor binding, the virion disassembles as its protein(s) become integrated into the host inner membrane, resulting in the phage genome entry into the bacterial cytoplasm. To begin revealing the mechanism of this process, we showed that tethering the functional N1N2 receptor-binding domain to the virion via termination-incompetent C domain abolishes infection. This infection defect cannot be complemented by in trans supply of the functional C domain. Therefore, the C domain of pIII acts in concert with the receptor-binding domains to mediate the post receptor binding events in the infection. Based on these findings, we propose a model in which binding of the N1 domain to the periplasmic portion of TolA, the secondary receptor, triggers in cis a conformational change in the C domain, and that this change opens or unlocks the pIII end of the virion, allowing the entry phase of infection to proceed. To our knowledge, this is the first virus that uses the same protein domain both for the insertion into and release from the host membrane.

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