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J Phys Condens Matter. 2018 Mar 14;30(10):104001. doi: 10.1088/1361-648X/aaa944.

Exploring the role of genome and structural ions in preventing viral capsid collapse during dehydration.

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Departamento de Física de la Materia Condensada C-III and Instituto de Física de la Materia Condensada (IFIMAC), Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Cantoblanco 28049 Madrid, Spain.


Even though viruses evolve mainly in liquid milieu, their horizontal transmission routes often include episodes of dry environment. Along their life cycle, some insect viruses, such as viruses from the Dicistroviridae family, withstand dehydrated conditions with presently unknown consequences to their structural stability. Here, we use atomic force microscopy to monitor the structural changes of viral particles of Triatoma virus (TrV) after desiccation. Our results demonstrate that TrV capsids preserve their genome inside, conserving their height after exposure to dehydrating conditions, which is in stark contrast with other viruses that expel their genome when desiccated. Moreover, empty capsids (without genome) resulted in collapsed particles after desiccation. We also explored the role of structural ions in the dehydration process of the virions (capsid containing genome) by chelating the accessible cations from the external solvent milieu. We observed that ion suppression helps to keep the virus height upon desiccation. Our results show that under drying conditions, the genome of TrV prevents the capsid from collapsing during dehydration, while the structural ions are responsible for promoting solvent exchange through the virion wall.

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