PerspectiveBiochemistry

Up close with herpesviruses

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Science  06 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6384, pp. 34-35
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat3990

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Summary

Viral capsids are marvels of biological engineering. They are sturdy enough to withstand pressure exerted by the tightly packed genomes inside yet can come apart or loosen easily to release the viral genome once the virus penetrates the cell. They are also great examples of genetic economy. Because of the limited coding capacity of viruses, capsids are built by using a few proteins over and over. As a result, capsids are symmetrical. Capsids of many viruses, such as herpesviruses, have icosahedral symmetry, which means nearly spherical soccer ball–like particles with 20 triangular faces and 12 vertices. Reports in this issue by Yuan et al. on page 48 (1) and Dai and Zhou on page 47 (2) reveal in detail how ∼3000 protein copies are arranged in the 130-nm-diameter structure of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) capsid (see the figure).