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J Mol Biol. 2007 Jul 20;370(4):633-42. Epub 2007 May 13.

Uncoating the herpes simplex virus genome.

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Department of Microbiology and Cancer Center, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA.


Initiation of infection by herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) involves a step in which the parental virus capsid docks at a nuclear pore and injects its DNA into the nucleus. Once "uncoated" in this way, the virus DNA can be transcribed and replicated. In an effort to clarify the mechanism of DNA injection, we examined DNA release as it occurs in purified capsids incubated in vitro. DNA ejection was observed following two different treatments, trypsin digestion of capsids in solution, and heating of capsids after attachment to a solid surface. In both cases, electron microscopic analysis revealed that DNA was ejected as a single double helix with ejection occurring at one vertex presumed to be the portal. In the case of trypsin-treated capsids, DNA release was found to correlate with cleavage of a small proportion of the portal protein, UL6, suggesting that UL6 cleavage may be involved in making the capsid permissive for DNA ejection. In capsids bound to a solid surface, DNA ejection was observed only when capsids were warmed above 4 degrees C. The proportion of capsids releasing their DNA increased as a function of incubation temperature with nearly all capsids ejecting their DNA when incubation was at 37 degrees C. The results demonstrate heterogeneity among HSV-1 capsids with respect to their sensitivity to heat-induced DNA ejection. Such heterogeneity may indicate a similar heterogeneity in the ease with which capsids are able to deliver DNA to the infected cell nucleus.

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