Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Riverside

UC Riverside Previously Published Works bannerUC Riverside

A Thermodynamic Model for Genome Packaging in Hepatitis B Virus


Understanding the fundamentals of genome packaging in viral capsids is important for finding effective antiviral strategies and for utilizing benign viral particles for gene therapy. While the structure of encapsidated genomic materials has been routinely characterized with experimental techniques such as cryo-electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction, much less is known about the molecular driving forces underlying genome assembly in an intracellular environment and its in vivo interactions with the capsid proteins. Here we study the thermodynamic basis of the pregenomic RNA encapsidation in human Hepatitis B virus in vivo using a coarse-grained molecular model that captures the essential components of nonspecific intermolecular interactions. The thermodynamic model is used to examine how the electrostatic interaction between the packaged RNA and the highly charged C-terminal domains (CTD) of capsid proteins regulate the nucleocapsid formation. The theoretical model predicts optimal RNA content in Hepatitis B virus nucleocapsids with different CTD lengths in good agreement with mutagenesis measurements, confirming the predominant role of electrostatic interactions and molecular excluded-volume effects in genome packaging. We find that the amount of encapsidated RNA is not linearly correlated with the net charge of CTD tails as suggested by earlier theoretical studies. Our thermodynamic analysis of the nucleocapsid structure and stability indicates that ∼10% of the CTD residues are free from complexation with RNA, resulting in partially exposed CTD tails. The thermodynamic model also predicts the free energy of complex formation between macromolecules, which corroborates experimental results for the impact of CTD truncation on the nucleocapsid stability.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View