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J Mol Biol. 2008 May 30;379(2):385-96. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2008.02.017. Epub 2008 Feb 15.

Determination of stoichiometry and conformational changes in the first step of the P22 tail assembly.

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Biomolecular Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Group, Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research, Utrecht Institute for Chemistry, Utrecht University, Sorbonnelaan 16, 3584 CA Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Large oligomeric portal assemblies have a central role in the life-cycles of bacteriophages and herpesviruses. The stoichiometry of in vitro assembled portal proteins has been a subject of debate for several years. The intrinsic polymorphic oligomerization of ectopically expressed portal proteins makes it possible to form rings of diverse stoichiometry (e.g., 11-mer, 12-mer, 13-mer, etc.) in solution. In this study, we have investigated the stoichiometry of the in vitro-assembled portal protein of bacteriophage P22 and characterized its association with the tail factor gp4. Using native mass spectrometry, we show for the first time that the reconstituted portal protein (assembled in vitro using a modified purification and assembly protocol) is exclusively dodecameric. Under the conditions used here, 12 copies of tail factor gp4 bind to the portal ring, in a cooperative fashion, to form a 12:12 complex of 1.050 MDa. We applied tandem mass spectrometry to the complete assembly and found an unusual dimeric dissociation pattern of gp4, suggesting a dimeric sub-organization of gp4 when assembled with the portal ring. Furthermore, native and ion mobility mass spectrometry reveal a major conformational change in the portal upon binding of gp4. We propose that the gp4-induced conformational change in the portal ring initiates a cascade of events assisting in the stabilization of newly filled P22 particles, which marks the end of phage morphogenesis.

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