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Science. 2006 Jun 23;312(5781):1791-5. Epub 2006 May 18.

The structure of an infectious P22 virion shows the signal for headful DNA packaging.

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Department of Molecular Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Bacteriophages, herpesviruses, and other large double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) viruses contain molecular machines that pump DNA into preassembled procapsids, generating internal capsid pressures exceeding, by 10-fold, that of bottled champagne. A 17 angstrom resolution asymmetric reconstruction of the infectious P22 virion reveals that tightly spooled DNA about the portal dodecamer forces a conformation that is significantly different from that observed in isolated portals assembled from ectopically expressed protein. We propose that the tight dsDNA spooling activates the switch that signals the headful chromosome packing density to the particle exterior.

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