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J Struct Biol. 2017 Mar;197(3):294-307. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2016.12.007. Epub 2016 Dec 19.

Structural studies of influenza virus RNPs by electron microscopy indicate molecular contortions within NP supra-structures.

Author information

1
Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, 50 South Drive, Room 6351, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
2
Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, 50 South Drive, Room 6351, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA. Electronic address: harrisau@mail.nih.gov.

Abstract

Ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes of influenza viruses are composed of multiple copies of the viral nucleoprotein (NP) that can form filamentous supra-structures. RNPs package distinct viral genomic RNA segments of different lengths into pleomorphic influenza virions. RNPs also function in viral RNA transcription and replication. Different RNP segments have varying lengths, but all must be incorporated into virions during assembly and then released during viral entry for productive infection cycles. RNP structures serve varied functions in the viral replication cycle, therefore understanding their molecular organization and flexibility is essential to understanding these functions. Here, we show using electron tomography and image analyses that isolated RNP filaments are not rigid helical structures, but instead display variations in lengths, curvatures, and even tolerated kinks and local unwinding. Additionally, we observed NP rings within RNP preparations, which were commonly composed of 5, 6, or 7 NP molecules and were of similar widths to filaments, suggesting plasticity in NP-NP interactions mediate RNP structural polymorphism. To demonstrate that NP alone could generate rings of variable oligomeric state, we performed 2D single particle image analysis on recombinant NP and found that rings of 4 and 5 protomers dominated, but rings of all compositions up to 7 were directly observed with variable frequency. This structural flexibility may be needed as RNPs carry out the interactions and conformational changes required for RNP assembly and genome packaging as well as virus uncoating.

KEYWORDS:

Electron microscopy; Flexibility; Influenza virus; RNPs; Structure; Tomography

PMID:
28007449
PMCID:
PMC5360478
DOI:
10.1016/j.jsb.2016.12.007
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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