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Nat Chem. 2011 Feb;3(2):126-32. doi: 10.1038/nchem.947. Epub 2010 Dec 19.

Interrogating viral capsid assembly with ion mobility-mass spectrometry.

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Biomolecular Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Group, Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research and Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

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  • Nat Chem. 2014 Aug;6(8):745.


Most proteins fulfil their function as part of large protein complexes. Surprisingly, little is known about the pathways and regulation of protein assembly. Several viral coat proteins can spontaneously assemble into capsids in vitro with morphologies identical to the native virion and thus resemble ideal model systems for studying protein complex formation. Even for these systems, the mechanism for self-assembly is still poorly understood, although it is generally thought that smaller oligomeric structures form key intermediates. This assembly nucleus and larger viral assembly intermediates are typically low abundant and difficult to monitor. Here, we characterised small oligomers of Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and norovirus under equilibrium conditions using native ion mobility mass spectrometry. This data in conjunction with computational modelling enabled us to elucidate structural features of these oligomers. Instead of more globular shapes, the intermediates exhibit sheet-like structures suggesting that they are assembly competent. We propose pathways for the formation of both capsids.

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