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Mol Microbiol. 2006 Jul;61(1):16-32.

Portal fusion protein constraints on function in DNA packaging of bacteriophage T4.

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USNA, Department of Chemistry, Mailstop 9B, 572 Holloway Road, Annapolis, MD 21402-5070, USA.


Architecturally conserved viral portal dodecamers are central to capsid assembly and DNA packaging. To examine bacteriophage T4 portal functions, we constructed, expressed and assembled portal gene 20 fusion proteins. C-terminally fused (gp20-GFP, gp20-HOC) and N-terminally fused (GFP-gp20 and HOC-gp20) portal fusion proteins assembled in vivo into active phage. Phage assembled C-terminal fusion proteins were inaccessible to trypsin whereas assembled N-terminal fusions were accessible to trypsin, consistent with locations inside and outside the capsid respectively. Both N- and C-terminal fusions required coassembly into portals with approximately 50% wild-type (WT) or near WT-sized 20am truncated portal proteins to yield active phage. Trypsin digestion of HOC-gp20 portal fusion phage showed comparable protection of the HOC and gp20 portions of the proteolysed HOC-gp20 fusion, suggesting both proteins occupy protected capsid positions, at both the portal and the proximal HOC capsid-binding sites. The external portal location of the HOC portion of the HOC-gp20 fusion phage was confirmed by anti-HOC immuno-gold labelling studies that showed a gold 'necklace' around the phage capsid portal. Analysis of HOC-gp20-containing proheads showed increased HOC protein protection from trypsin degradation only after prohead expansion, indicating incorporation of HOC-gp20 portal fusion protein to protective proximal HOC-binding sites following this maturation. These proheads also showed no DNA packaging defect in vitro as compared with WT. Retention of function of phage and prohead portals with bulky internal (C-terminal) and external (N-terminal) fusion protein extensions, particularly of apparently capsid tethered portals, challenges the portal rotation requirement of some hypothetical DNA packaging mechanisms.

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