Conformational plasticity of a native retroviral capsid revealed by x-ray crystallography

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Science  03 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6243, pp. 95-98
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa5182

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Retroviral capsids in their native form

Capsid proteins of retroviruses form protective lattices around viral RNA molecules. The precise molecular details of how individual, full-length capsid proteins assemble to shield the viral genome; however, are not well understood. Obal et al. and Gres et al. now report high resolution crystal structures of the full length capsid proteins from Bovine Leukemia Virus and HIV-1, respectively. The two studies complement each other to reveal the dynamic nature of capsid protein assembly and of how individual capsid proteins interact in the lattice. The findings may have relevance for drug design.

Science, this issue p. 95; see also p. 99


Retroviruses depend on self-assembly of their capsid proteins (core particle) to yield infectious mature virions. Despite the essential role of the retroviral core, its high polymorphism has hindered high-resolution structural analyses. Here, we report the x-ray structure of the native capsid (CA) protein from bovine leukemia virus. CA is organized as hexamers that deviate substantially from sixfold symmetry, yet adjust to make two-dimensional pseudohexagonal arrays that mimic mature retroviral cores. Intra- and interhexameric quasi-equivalent contacts are uncovered, with flexible trimeric lateral contacts among hexamers, yet preserving very similar dimeric interfaces making the lattice. The conformation of each capsid subunit in the hexamer is therefore dictated by long-range interactions, revealing how the hexamers can also assemble into closed core particles, a relevant feature of retrovirus biology.

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