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J Mol Biol. 2007 Feb 9;366(1):14-8. Epub 2006 Nov 11.

Distinguishing reversible from irreversible virus capsid assembly.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK 73104, USA.


Capsids of spherical viruses may be constructed from hundreds or thousands of copies of the major capsid protein(s). These assembly reactions are poorly understood. Here we consider the predicted behavior for assembly where the component reactions have weak association energy and are reversible and compare them to essentially irreversible reactions. The comparisons are based on mass action calculations and the behavior predicted from kinetic simulations where assembly is described as a cascade of low order reactions. Reversible reactions are characterized by a pseudo-critical concentration, whereas irreversible reactions consume all free subunits. Irreversible reactions are more susceptible to kinetic traps comprised of numerous small intermediates. In the case where only the ultimate step is irreversible, very low concentrations of intermediates slow the completion of the reaction so that overall it closely matches the predictions for the reversible reactions that make up the majority of the cascade. Data in the literature strongly support the hypothesis that most viruses are held together by many weak interactions.

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