Crystal Structure of a Nucleocapsid-Like Nucleoprotein-RNA Complex of Respiratory Syncytial Virus

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Science  27 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5957, pp. 1279-1283
DOI: 10.1126/science.1177634

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RSV in 3D

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes pneumonia and bronchiolitis in infants. RSV is an RNA virus in which the genomic RNA forms part of a nuclease-resistant helical ribonucleoprotein complex. Tawar et al. (p. 1279) now use x-ray and electron microscopy data to model the structure of this nucleocapsid complex and show how it can template RNA synthesis. The crystal structure shows RNA wrapped around a decameric ring of nucleocapsid protein. Combining this structure with electron microscopy data gives a model that shows how polymerase might read out the RNA bases without disassembling the nucleocapsid helix.


The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an important human pathogen, yet neither a vaccine nor effective therapies are available to treat infection. To help elucidate the replication mechanism of this RNA virus, we determined the three-dimensional (3D) crystal structure at 3.3 Å resolution of a decameric, annular ribonucleoprotein complex of the RSV nucleoprotein (N) bound to RNA. This complex mimics one turn of the viral helical nucleocapsid complex, which serves as template for viral RNA synthesis. The RNA wraps around the protein ring, with seven nucleotides contacting each N subunit, alternating rows of four and three stacked bases that are exposed and buried within a protein groove, respectively. Combined with electron microscopy data, this structure provides a detailed model for the RSV nucleocapsid, in which the bases are accessible for readout by the viral polymerase. Furthermore, the nucleoprotein structure highlights possible key sites for drug targeting.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • †Present address: Synchrotron Soleil, Laboratoire de Biologie, L’Orme des Merisiers, Saint Aubin, Boite Postale 48, 91192 Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex, France.

  • ‡Present address: National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, Blanche Lane, South Mimms, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire EN6 3QG, UK.

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