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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Hydrophobic Network: Intersubunit and Intercapsomer Interactions Stabilizing the Bacteriophage P22 Capsid.

  • Author(s): Asija, Kunica;
  • Teschke, Carolyn M
  • et al.

Double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) tailed phages and herpesviruses assemble their capsids using coat proteins that have the ubiquitous HK97 fold. Though this fold is common, we do not have a thorough understanding of the different ways viruses adapt it to maintain stability in various environments. The HK97-fold E-loop, which connects adjacent subunits at the outer periphery of capsomers, has been implicated in capsid stability. Here, we show that in bacteriophage P22, residue W61 at the tip of the E-loop plays a role in stabilizing procapsids and in maturation. We hypothesize that a hydrophobic pocket is formed by residues I366 and W410 in the P domain of a neighboring subunit within a capsomer, into which W61 fits like a peg. In addition, W61 likely bridges to residues A91 and L401 in P-domain loops of an adjacent capsomer, thereby linking the entire capsid together with a network of hydrophobic interactions. There is conservation of this hydrophobic network in the distantly related P22-like phages, indicating that this structural feature is likely important for stabilizing this family of phages. Thus, our data shed light on one of the varied elegant mechanisms used in nature to consistently build stable viral genome containers through subtle adaptation of the HK97 fold.IMPORTANCE Similarities in assembly reactions and coat protein structures of the dsDNA tailed phages and herpesviruses make phages ideal models to understand capsid assembly and identify potential targets for antiviral drug discovery. The coat protein E-loops of these viruses are involved in both intra- and intercapsomer interactions. In phage P22, hydrophobic interactions peg the coat protein subunits together within a capsomer, where the E-loop hydrophobic residue W61 of one subunit packs into a pocket of hydrophobic residues I366 and W410 of the adjacent subunit. W61 also makes hydrophobic interactions with A91 and L401 of a subunit in an adjacent capsomer. We show these intra- and intercapsomer hydrophobic interactions form a network crucial to capsid stability and proper assembly.

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