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Science. 2013 Feb 1;339(6119):576-9. doi: 10.1126/science.1231887. Epub 2013 Jan 10.

The bacteriophage t7 virion undergoes extensive structural remodeling during infection.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Texas Medical School at Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Adsorption and genome ejection are fundamental to the bacteriophage life cycle, yet their molecular mechanisms are not well understood. We used cryo-electron tomography to capture T7 virions at successive stages of infection of Escherichia coli minicells at ~4-nm resolution. The six phage tail fibers were folded against the capsid, extending and orienting symmetrically only after productive adsorption to the host cell surface. Receptor binding by the tail triggered conformational changes resulting in the insertion of an extended tail, which functions as the DNA ejection conduit into the cell cytoplasm. After ejection, the extended phage tail collapsed or disassembled, which allowed resealing of the infected cell membrane. These structural studies provide a detailed series of intermediates during phage infection.

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