Looking Inside Adenovirus

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Science  27 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5995, pp. 1026-1027
DOI: 10.1126/science.1194922

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Adenoviruses are a large group of DNA viruses with a distinguished experimental history, including contributions to the discovery of RNA splicing and the elucidation of central pathways in cell transformation (1). Some adenoviruses are human pathogens. They are also very much in vogue as potential vaccine and gene therapy vectors. Structure-based redesign of their cell-targeting and antigenic properties is therefore a desirable goal. Although the striking icosahedral shape of an adenovirus particle has made its image an icon in virology (see the figure), the complexity of its molecular organization has required that a picture of an intact virion be assembled by fitting high-resolution structures of the “major” components (the “hexon,” “penton base,” and “penton fiber”) into lower-resolution images from cryoelectron microscopy (cryo-EM) (2). Two papers in this issue will help to eliminate that requirement. On page 1071, Reddy et al. (3) report the crystal structure of a modified adenovirus type 5 (Ad5), in which short penton fibers from another serotype replace those of the wild-type Ad5. On page 1038, Zhou and colleagues (4) report a cryo-EM reconstruction of Ad5 with sufficient resolution to trace polypeptide chains in three of the “minor” proteins that hold hexons and pentons together, giving a more detailed view than hitherto possible of interactions that determine particle assembly.