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J Mol Biol. 2013 May 13;425(9):1488-96. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2013.02.021. Epub 2013 Feb 26.

Virus assembly and maturation: auto-regulation through allosteric molecular switches.

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Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


We generalize the concept of allostery from the traditional non-active-site control of enzymes to virus maturation. Virtually, all animal viruses transition from a procapsid noninfectious state to a mature infectious state. The procapsid contains an encoded chemical program that is executed following an environmental cue. We developed an exceptionally accessible virus system for the study of the activators of maturation and the downstream consequences that result in particle stability and infectivity. Nudaurelia capensis omega virus (NωV) is a T=4 icosahedral virus that undergoes a dramatic maturation in which the 490-Å spherical procapsid condenses to a 400-Å icosahedral-shaped capsid with associated specific auto-proteolysis and stabilization. Employing X-ray crystallography, time-resolved electron cryo-microscopy and hydrogen/deuterium exchange as well as biochemistry, it was possible to define the mechanisms of allosteric communication among the four quasi-equivalent subunits in the icosahedral asymmetric unit. These gene products undergo proteolysis at different rates, dependent on quaternary structure environment, while particle stability is conferred globally following only a few local subunit transitions. We show that there is a close similarity between the concepts of tensegrity (associated with geodesic domes and mechanical engineering) and allostery (associated with biochemical control mechanisms).

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