Arthropod-borne pathogens account for millions of deaths each year. Understanding the genetic mechanisms controlling vector susceptibility to pathogens has profound implications for developing novel strategies for controlling insect-transmitted infectious diseases. The fact that many viruses carry genes that have anti-apoptotic activity has long led to the hypothesis that induction of apoptosis could be a fundamental innate immune response. However, the cellular mechanisms mediating the induction of apoptosis following viral infection remained enigmatic, which has prevented experimental verification of the functional significance of apoptosis in limiting viral infection in insects. In addition, studies with cultured insect cells have shown that there is sometimes a lack of apoptosis, or the pro-apoptotic response happens relatively late, thus casting doubt on the functional significance of apoptosis as an innate immunity. Using in vivo mosquito models and the native route of infection, we found that there is a rapid induction of reaper-like pro-apoptotic genes within a few hours following exposure to DNA or RNA viruses. Recapitulating a similar response in Drosophila, we found that this rapid induction of apoptosis requires the function of P53 and is mediated by a stress–responsive regulatory region upstream of reaper. More importantly, we showed that the rapid induction of apoptosis is responsible for preventing the expression of viral genes and blocking the infection. Genetic changes influencing this rapid induction of reaper-like pro-apoptotic genes led to significant differences in susceptibility to viral infection.
Arthropod-borne pathogens account for millions of deaths each year. Understanding the genetic mechanisms controlling arthropod susceptibility to pathogens has profound implications for developing novel strategies for controlling insect-transmitted infectious diseases. Although it was postulated that apoptosis (a genetically controlled form of cellular suicide) may play a very important role in insect innate immunity against viral infection, direct evidence has been lacking due to the lack of knowledge on the regulatory pathways responsible for the induction of apoptosis following viral infection. In this study, we found that there is a rapid induction of pro-apoptotic genes within 1–3 hours of exposure to virus. This rapid pro-apoptotic response was only observed in live animals but not in cultured cells. Genetic analysis indicated that animals lacking this rapid pro-apoptotic response were hypersensitive to viral infection. Thus our work provides unequivocal evidence indicating that rapid induction of apoptosis plays a very important role in mediating insect resistance to viral infection.
Little is known about the molecular determinants causing and sustaining viral persistent infections at the cellular level. We found that Drosophila cells persistently infected (PI) with Flock House virus (FHV) invariably harbor defective viral RNAs, which are replicated by the FHV RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. Some defective RNAs encoded a functional B2 protein, the FHV suppressor of RNA interference, which might contribute to maintenance of virus persistence. Viral small interfering RNAs (vsiRNAs) of both polarities were detected in PI cells and primarily mapped to regions of the viral genome that were preserved in the isolated defective RNAs. This indicated that defective RNAs could represent major sources of vsiRNAs. Immunofluorescence analysis revealed that mitochondria and viral proteins are differentially distributed in PI cells and lytically infected cells, which may partly explain the reduction in infectious viral progeny. Our results provide a basis for further investigations of the molecular mechanisms underlying persistent infections.
Flock House virus; persistent infection; defective RNA; RNA interference
Multivalent display of heterologous proteins on viral nanoparticles forms a basis for numerous applications in nanotechnology, including vaccine development, targeted therapeutic delivery and tissue-specific bio-imaging. In many instances, precise placement of proteins is required for optimal functioning of the supramolecular assemblies, but orientation- and site-specific coupling of proteins to viral scaffolds remains a significant technical challenge. We have developed two strategies that allow for controlled attachment of a variety of proteins on viral particles using covalent and noncovalent principles. In one strategy, an interaction between domain 4 of anthrax protective antigen and its receptor was used to display multiple copies of a target protein on virus-like particles. In the other, expressed protein ligation and aniline-catalyzed oximation was used to covalently display a model protein. The latter strategy, in particular, yielded nanoparticles that induced potent immune responses to the coupled protein, suggesting potential applications in vaccine development.
Viral nanoparticle; Flock House virus; virus-like particle; anthrax protective antigen; expressed protein ligation; aniline-catalyzed oxime ligation; vaccine development
Porcine circovirus 2 (PCV2) is a T=1 nonenveloped icosahedral virus that has had severe impact on the swine industry. Here we report the crystal structure of an N-terminally truncated PCV2 virus-like particle at 2.3-Å resolution, and the cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) image reconstruction of a full-length PCV2 virus-like particle at 9.6-Å resolution. This is the first atomic structure of a circovirus. The crystal structure revealed that the capsid protein fold is a canonical viral jelly roll. The loops connecting the strands of the jelly roll define the limited features of the surface. Sulfate ions interacting with the surface and electrostatic potential calculations strongly suggest a heparan sulfate binding site that allows PCV2 to gain entry into the cell. The crystal structure also allowed previously determined epitopes of the capsid to be visualized. The cryo-EM image reconstruction showed that the location of the N terminus, absent in the crystal structure, is inside the capsid. As the N terminus was previously shown to be antigenic, it may externalize through viral “breathing.”
The process by which nonenveloped viruses cross cell membranes during host cell entry remains poorly defined; however, common themes are emerging. Here, we use correlated in vivo and in vitro studies to understand the mechanism of Flock House virus (FHV) entry and membrane penetration. We demonstrate that low endocytic pH is required for FHV infection, that exposure to acidic pH promotes FHV-mediated disruption of model membranes (liposomes), and particles exposed to low pH in vitro exhibit increased hydrophobicity. In addition, FHV particles perturbed by heating displayed a marked increase in liposome disruption, indicating that membrane-active regions of the capsid are exposed or released under these conditions. We also provide evidence that autoproteolytic cleavage, to generate the lipophilic γ peptide (4.4 kDa), is required for membrane penetration. Mutant, cleavage-defective particles failed to mediate liposome lysis, regardless of pH or heat treatment, suggesting that these particles are not able to expose or release the requisite membrane-active regions of the capsid, namely, the γ peptides. Based on these results, we propose an updated model for FHV entry in which (i) the virus enters the host cell by endocytosis, (ii) low pH within the endocytic pathway triggers the irreversible exposure or release of γ peptides from the virus particle, and (iii) the exposed/released γ peptides disrupt the endosomal membrane, facilitating translocation of viral RNA into the cytoplasm.
Recent studies have established that several nonenveloped viruses utilize virus-encoded lytic peptides for host membrane disruption. We investigated this mechanism with the “gamma” peptide of the insect virus Flock House virus (FHV). We demonstrate that the C terminus of gamma is essential for membrane disruption in vitro and the rescue of immature virus infectivity in vivo, and the amphipathic N terminus of gamma alone is not sufficient. We also show that deletion of the C-terminal domain disrupts icosahedral ordering of the amphipathic helices of gamma in the virus. Our results have broad implications for understanding membrane lysis during nonenveloped virus entry.
The CDC recommend 60 days of oral antibiotics combined with a three-dose series of the anthrax vaccine for prophylaxis after potential exposure to aerosolized Bacillus anthracis spores. The anthrax vaccine is currently not licensed for anthrax postexposure prophylaxis and has to be made available under an Investigational New Drug protocol. Postexposure prophylaxis based on antibiotics can be problematic in cases where the use of antibiotics is contraindicated. Furthermore, there is a concern that an exposure could involve antibiotic-resistant strains of B. anthracis. Availability of alternate treatment modalities that are effective in prophylaxis of inhalation anthrax is therefore highly desirable. A major research focus toward this end has been on passive immunization using polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies against B. anthracis toxin components. Since 2001, significant progress has been made in isolation and commercial development of monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies that function as potent neutralizers of anthrax lethal toxin in both a prophylactic and therapeutic setting. Several new products have completed Phase I clinical trials and are slated for addition to the National Strategic Stockpile. These rapid advances were possible because of major funding made available by the US government through programs such as Bioshield and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Continued government funding is critical to support the development of a robust biodefense industry.
antibiotic treatment; biodefense funding; inhalation anthrax; lethal factor; medical countermeasures; prophylactic antibodies; protective antigen; vaccination
Assembly of many RNA viruses entails the encapsidation of multiple genome segments into a single virion, and underlying mechanisms for this process are still poorly understood. In the case of the nodavirus Flock House virus (FHV), a bipartite positive-strand RNA genome consisting of RNA1 and RNA2 is copackaged into progeny virions. In this study, we investigated whether the specific packaging of FHV RNA is dependent on an arginine-rich motif (ARM) located in the N terminus of the coat protein. Our results demonstrate that the replacement of all arginine residues within this motif with alanines rendered the resultant coat protein unable to package RNA1, suggesting that the ARM represents an important determinant for the encapsidation of this genome segment. In contrast, replacement of all arginines with lysines had no effect on RNA1 packaging. Interestingly, confocal microscopic analysis demonstrated that the RNA1 packaging-deficient mutant did not localize to mitochondrial sites of FHV RNA replication as efficiently as wild-type coat protein. In addition, gain-of-function analyses showed that the ARM by itself was sufficient to target green fluorescent protein to RNA replication sites. These data suggest that the packaging of RNA1 is dependent on trafficking of coat protein to mitochondria, the presumed site of FHV assembly, and that this trafficking requires a high density of positive charge in the N terminus. Our results are compatible with a model in which recognition of RNA1 and RNA2 for encapsidation occurs sequentially and in distinct cellular microenvironments.
Flock House virus (FHV) is a nonenveloped, icosahedral insect virus whose genome consists of two molecules of single-stranded, positive-sense RNA. FHV is a highly tractable system for studies on a variety of basic aspects of RNA virology. In this review, recent studies on the replication of FHV genomic and subgenomic RNA are discussed, including a landmark study on the ultrastructure and molecular organization of FHV replication complexes. In addition, we show how research on FHV B2, a potent suppressor of RNA silencing, resulted in significant insights into antiviral immunity in insects. We also explain how the specific packaging of the bipartite genome of this virus is not only controlled by specific RNA-protein interactions but also by coupling between RNA replication and genome recognition. Finally, applications for FHV as an epitope-presenting system are described with particular reference to its recent use for the development of a novel anthrax antitoxin and vaccine.
Flock House virus; Positive-strand RNA virus; RNA replication; RNA silencing suppressor; Specific genome recognition; Anthrax antitoxin; Anthrax vaccine; Multivalent display
We present the first all-atom model for the structure of a T=3 virus, pariacoto virus (PaV), which is a non-enveloped, icosahedral RNA virus and a member of the Nodaviridae family. The model is an extension of the crystal structure, which reveals about 88% of the protein structure but only about 35% of the RNA structure. Evaluation of alternative models confirms our earlier observation that the polycationic protein tails must penetrate deeply into the core of the virus, where they stabilize the structure by neutralizing a substantial fraction of the RNA charge. This leads us to propose a model for the assembly of small icosahedral RNA viruses: nonspecific binding of the protein tails to the RNA leads to a collapse of the complex, in a fashion reminiscent of DNA condensation. The globular protein domains are excluded from the condensed phase but are tethered to it, so they accumulate in a shell around the condensed phase, where their concentration is high enough to trigger oligomerization and formation of the mature virus.
Virus assembly occurs in a complex environment and is dependent upon viral and cellular components being properly correlated in time and space. The simplicity of the Flock House virus (FHV) capsid and the extensive structural, biochemical, and genetic characterization of the virus make it an excellent system for studying in vivo virus assembly. The tetracysteine motif (CCPGCC), that induces fluorescence in bound biarsenical compounds (FlAsH and ReAsH), was genetically inserted in the coat protein, to visualize this gene product during virus infection. The small size of this modification when compared to those made by traditional fluorescent proteins minimizes disruption of the coat proteins numerous functions. ReAsH not only fluoresces when bound to the tetracysteine motif but also allows correlated electron microscopy (EM) of the same cell following photoconversion and osmium staining. These studies demonstrated that the coat protein was concentrated in discrete patches in the cell. High pressure freezing (HPF) followed by freeze substitution (FS) of infected cells showed that these patches were formed by virus particles in crystalline arrays. EM tomography (EMT) of the HPF/FS prepared samples showed that these arrays were proximal to highly modified mitochondria previously established to be the site of RNA replication. Two features of the mitochondrial modification are ~60 nm spherules that line the outer membrane and the large chamber created by the convolution induced in the entire organelle.
Mass spectrometry analysis was used to target three different aspects of the viral infection process: the expression kinetics of viral proteins, changes in the expression levels of cellular proteins, and the changes in cellular metabolites in response to viral infection. The combination of these methods represents a new, more comprehensive approach to the study of viral infection revealing the complexity of these events within the infected cell. The proteins associated with measles virus (MV) infection of human HeLa cells were measured using a label-free approach. On the other hand, the regulation of cellular and Rock House Virus (FHV) proteins in response to FHV infection of Drosophila cells were monitored using stable isotope labeling. Three complementary techniques were used to monitor changes in viral protein expression in the cell and host protein expression. A total of 1500 host proteins were identified and quantified, of which over 200 proteins were either up- or down-regulated in response to viral infection, such as the up regulation of the Drosophila apoptotic croquemort protein, and the down regulation of proteins that inhibited cell death. These analyses also demonstrated the up-regulation of viral proteins functioning in replication, inhibition of RNA interference, viral assembly, and RNA encapsidation. Over 1000 unique metabolites were also observed with significant changes in over 30, such as the down-regulated cellular phospholipids possibly reflecting the initial events in cell death and viral release. Overall, the cellular transformation that occurs upon viral infection is a process involving hundreds of proteins and metabolites, many of which are structurally and functionally uncharacterized.
virus; protein regulation; viral infection; metabolites; isotope labeling; mass spectrometry
The infectivity of flock house virus (FHV) requires autocatalytic maturation cleavage of the capsid protein at residue 363, liberating the C-terminal 44-residue γ peptides, which remain associated with the particle. In vitro studies previously demonstrated that the amphipathic, helical portion (amino acids 364 to 385) of γ is membrane active, suggesting a role for γ in RNA membrane translocation during infection. Here we show that the infectivity of a maturation-defective mutant of FHV can be restored by viruslike particles that lack the genome but undergo maturation cleavage. We propose that the colocalization of the two defective particle types in an entry compartment allows the restoration of infectivity by γ.
The recent use of Bacillus anthracis as a bioweapon has stimulated the search for novel antitoxins and vaccines that act rapidly and with minimal adverse effects. B. anthracis produces an AB-type toxin composed of the receptor-binding moiety protective antigen (PA) and the enzymatic moieties edema factor and lethal factor. PA is a key target for both antitoxin and vaccine development. We used the icosahedral insect virus Flock House virus as a platform to display 180 copies of the high affinity, PA-binding von Willebrand A domain of the ANTXR2 cellular receptor. The chimeric virus-like particles (VLPs) correctly displayed the receptor von Willebrand A domain on their surface and inhibited lethal toxin action in in vitro and in vivo models of anthrax intoxication. Moreover, VLPs complexed with PA elicited a potent toxin-neutralizing antibody response that protected rats from anthrax lethal toxin challenge after a single immunization without adjuvant. This recombinant VLP platform represents a novel and highly effective, dually-acting reagent for treatment and protection against anthrax.
Anthrax is caused by the spore-forming, Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The toxic effects of B. anthracis are predominantly due to an AB-type toxin made up of the receptor-binding subunit protective antigen (PA) and two enzymatic subunits called lethal factor and edema factor. Protective immunity to B. anthracis infection is conferred by antibodies against PA, which is the primary component of the current anthrax vaccine. Although the vaccine is safe and effective, it requires multiple injections followed by annual boosters. The development of a well-characterized vaccine that induces immunity after a single injection is an important goal. We developed a reagent that combines the functions of an anthrax antitoxin and vaccine in a single compound. It is based on multivalent display of the anthrax toxin receptor, ANTXR2, on the surface of an insect virus. We demonstrate that the recombinant virus-like particles protect rats from anthrax intoxication and that they induce a potent immune response against lethal toxin when coated with PA. This immune response protected animals against lethal toxin challenge after a single administration without adjuvant. The PA-coated particles have significant advantages as an immunogen compared to monomeric PA and form the basis for development of an improved anthrax vaccine.
Flock House virus (FHV; Nodaviridae) is a positive-strand RNA virus that encapsidates a bipartite genome consisting of RNA1 and RNA2. We recently showed that specific recognition of these RNAs for packaging into progeny particles requires coat protein translated from replicating viral RNA. In the present study, we investigated whether the entire assembly pathway, i.e., the formation of the initial nucleating complex and the subsequent completion of the capsid, is restricted to the same pool of coat protein subunits. To test this, coat proteins carrying either FLAG or hemagglutinin epitopes were synthesized from replicating or nonreplicating RNA in the same cell, and the resulting particle population and its RNA packaging phenotype were analyzed. Results from immunoprecipitation analysis and ion-exchange chromatography showed that the differentially tagged proteins segregated into two distinct populations of virus particles with distinct RNA packaging phenotypes. Particles assembled from coat protein that was translated from replicating RNA contained the FHV genome, whereas particles assembled from coat protein that was translated from nonreplicating mRNA contained random cellular RNA. These data demonstrate that only coat proteins synthesized from replicating RNA partake in the assembly of virions that package the viral genome and that RNA replication, coat protein translation, and virion assembly are processes that are tightly coupled during the life cycle of FHV.
We report the identification and characterization of a viral intermediate formed during infection of Drosophila cells with the nodavirus Flock House virus (FHV). We observed that even at a very low multiplicity of infection, only 70% of the input virus stayed attached to or entered the cells, while the remaining 30% of the virus eluted from cells after initial binding. The eluted FHV particles did not rebind to Drosophila cells and, thus, could no longer initiate infection by the receptor-mediated entry pathway. FHV virus-like particles with the same capsid composition as native FHV but containing cellular RNA also exhibited formation of eluted particles when incubated with the cells. A maturation cleavage-defective mutant of FHV, however, did not. Compared to naïve FHV particles, i.e., particles that had never been incubated with cells, eluted particles showed an acid-sensitive phenotype and morphological alterations. Furthermore, eluted particles had lost a fraction of the internally located capsid protein gamma. Based on these results, we hypothesize that FHV eluted particles represent an infection intermediate analogous to eluted particles observed for members of the family Picornaviridae.
Specific targeting of tumor cells is an important goal for the design of nanotherapeutics for the treatment of cancer. Recently, viruses have been explored as nano-containers for specific targeting applications, however these systems typically require modification of the virus surface using chemical or genetic means to achieve tumor-specific delivery. Interestingly, there exists a subset of viruses with natural affinity for receptors on tumor cells that could be exploited for nanotechnology applications. For example, the canine parvovirus (CPV) utilizes transferrin receptors (TfRs) for binding and cell entry into canine as well as human cells. TfRs are over-expressed by a variety of tumor cells and are widely being investigated for tumor-targeted drug delivery. We explored whether the natural tropism of CPV to TfRs could be harnessed for targeting tumor cells. Towards this goal, CPV virus-like particles (VLPs) produced by expression of the CPV-VP2 capsid protein in a baculovirus expression system were examined for attachment of small molecules and delivery to tumor cells. Structural modeling suggested that six lysines per VP2 subunit are presumably addressable for bioconjugation on the CPV capsid exterior. Between 45 and 100 of the possible 360 lysines/particle could be routinely derivatized with dye molecules depending on the conjugation conditions. Dye conjugation also demonstrated that the CPV-VLPs could withstand conditions for chemical modification on lysines. Attachment of fluorescent dyes neither impaired binding to the TfRs nor affected internalization of the 26 nm-sized VLPs into several human tumor cell lines. CPV-VLPs therefore exhibit highly favorable characteristics for development as a novel nanomaterial for tumor targeting.
Flock house virus (FHV) is a bipartite, positive-strand RNA insect virus that encapsidates its two genomic RNAs in a single virion. It provides a convenient model system for studying the principles underlying the copackaging of multipartite viral RNA genomes. In this study, we used a baculovirus expression system to determine if the uncoupling of viral protein synthesis from RNA replication affected the packaging of FHV RNAs. We found that neither RNA1 (which encodes the viral replicase) nor RNA2 (which encodes the capsid protein) were packaged efficiently when capsid protein was supplied in trans from nonreplicating RNA. However, capsid protein synthesized in cis from replicating RNA2 packaged RNA2 efficiently in the presence and absence of RNA1. These results demonstrated that capsid protein translation from replicating RNA2 is required for specific packaging of the FHV genome. This type of coupling between genome replication and translation and RNA packaging has not been observed previously. We hypothesize that RNA2 replication and translation must be spatially coordinated in FHV-infected cells to facilitate retrieval of the viral RNAs for encapsidation by newly synthesized capsid protein. Spatial coordination of RNA and capsid protein synthesis may be key to specific genome packaging and assembly in other RNA viruses.
The nodavirus Flock house virus (FHV) has a bipartite, positive-sense RNA genome that is packaged into an icosahedral particle displaying T=3 symmetry. The high-resolution X-ray structure of FHV has shown that 10 bp of well-ordered, double-stranded RNA are located at each of the 30 twofold axes of the virion, but it is not known which portions of the genome form these duplex regions. The regular distribution of double-stranded RNA in the interior of the virus particle indicates that large regions of the encapsidated genome are engaged in secondary structure interactions. Moreover, the RNA is restricted to a topology that is unlikely to exist during translation or replication. We used electron cryomicroscopy and image reconstruction to determine the structure of four types of FHV particles that differed in RNA and protein content. RNA-capsid interactions were primarily mediated via the N and C termini, which are essential for RNA recognition and particle assembly. A substantial fraction of the packaged nucleic acid, either viral or heterologous, was organized as a dodecahedral cage of duplex RNA. The similarity in tertiary structure suggests that RNA folding is independent of sequence and length. Computational modeling indicated that RNA duplex formation involves both short-range and long-range interactions. We propose that the capsid protein is able to exploit the plasticity of the RNA secondary structures, capturing those that are compatible with the geometry of the dodecahedral cage.
The assembly and maturation of the coat protein of a T=4, nonenveloped, single-stranded RNA virus, Nudaurelia capensis ω virus (NωV), was examined by using a recombinant baculovirus expression system. At pH 7.6, the coat protein assembles into a stable particle called the procapsid, which is 450 Å in diameter and porous. Lowering the pH to 5.0 leads to a concerted reorganization of the subunits into a 410-Å-diameter particle called the capsid, which has no obvious pores. This conformational change is rapid but reversible until slow, autoproteolytic cleavage occurs in at least 15% of the subunits at the lower pH. In this report, we show that expression of subunits with replacement of Asn-570, which is at the cleavage site, with Thr results in assembly of particles with expected morphology but that are cleavage defective. The conformational change from procapsid to capsid is reversible in N570T mutant virus-like particles, in contrast to wild-type particles, which are locked into the capsid conformation after cleavage of the coat protein. The reexpanded procapsids display slightly different properties than the original procapsid, suggesting hysteretic effects. Because of the stability of the procapsid under near-neutral conditions and the reversible properties of the cleavage-defective mutant, NωV provides an excellent model for the study of pH-induced conformational changes in macromolecular assemblies. Here, we identify the relationship between cleavage and the conformational change and propose a pH-dependent helix-coil transition that may be responsible for the structural rearrangement in NωV.
The structure of recombinant virus-like particles of malabaricus grouper nervous necrosis virus (MGNNV), a fish nodavirus isolated from the grouper Epinephelus malabaricus, was determined by electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM) and three-dimensional reconstruction at 23-Å resolution. The cryoEM structure, sequence comparison, and protein fold recognition analysis indicate that the coat protein of MGNNV has two domains resembling those of tomato bushy stunt virus and Norwalk virus, rather than the expected single-domain coat protein of insect nodaviruses. The analysis implies that residues 83 to 216 fold as a β-sandwich which forms the inner shell of the T=3 capsid and residues 217 to 308 form the trimeric surface protrusions observed in the cryoEM map. The structural similarities between fish nodaviruses and members of the tombusvirus and calicivirus groups provide significant new data for understanding the evolution of the nodavirus family.
Flock House virus is a small icosahedral insect virus of the family Nodaviridae. Its genome consists of two positive-sense RNA molecules, which are believed to be encapsidated into a single viral particle. However, evidence to support this claim is circumstantial. Here we demonstrate that exposure of nodavirus particles to heat causes the two strands of viral RNA to form a stable complex, directly establishing that both RNAs are copackaged into one virion. The physical properties of the RNA complex, the effect of heat on the particles per se, and the possible relevance of these findings to the nodavirus life cycle are presented.
Flock house virus (FHV) is a small icosahedral insect virus with a bipartite, messenger-sense RNA genome. Its T=3 icosahedral capsid is initially assembled from 180 subunits of a single type of coat protein, capsid precursor protein alpha (407 amino acids). Following assembly, the precursor particles undergo a maturation step in which the alpha subunits autocatalytically cleave between Asn363 and Ala364. This cleavage generates mature coat proteins beta (363 residues) and gamma (44 residues) and is required for acquisition of virion infectivity. The X-ray structure of mature FHV shows that gamma peptides located at the fivefold axes of the virion form a pentameric helical bundle, and it has been suggested that this bundle plays a role in release of viral RNA during FHV uncoating. To provide experimental support for this hypothesis, we generated mutant coat proteins that carried deletions in the gamma region of precursor protein alpha. Surprisingly, we found that these mutations interfered with specific recognition and packaging of viral RNA during assembly. The resulting particles contained large amounts of cellular RNAs and varying amounts of the viral RNAs. Single-site amino acid substitution mutants showed that three phenylalanines located at positions 402, 405, and 407 of coat precursor protein alpha were critically important for specific recognition of the FHV genome. Thus, in addition to its hypothesized role in uncoating and RNA delivery, the C-terminal region of coat protein alpha plays a significant role in recognition of FHV RNA during assembly. A possible link between these two functions is discussed.
The capsid of flock house virus is composed of 180 copies of a single type of coat protein which forms a T=3 icosahedral shell. High-resolution structural analysis has shown that the protein subunits, although chemically identical, form different contacts across the twofold axes of the virus particle. Subunits that are related by icosahedral twofold symmetry form flat contacts, whereas subunits that are related by quasi-twofold symmetry form bent contacts. The flat contacts are due to the presence of ordered genomic RNA and an ordered peptide arm which is inserted in the groove between the subunits and prevents them from forming the dihedral angle observed at the bent quasi-twofold contacts. We hypothesized that by deleting the residues that constitute the ordered peptide arm, formation of flat contacts should be impossible and therefore result in assembly of particles with only bent contacts. Such particles would have T=1 symmetry. To test this hypothesis we generated two deletion mutants in which either 50 or 31 residues were eliminated from the N terminus of the coat protein. We found that in the absence of residues 1 to 50, assembly was completely inhibited, presumably because the mutation removed a cluster of positively charged amino acids required for neutralization of encapsidated RNA. When the deletion was restricted to residues 1 to 31, assembly occurred, but the products were highly heterogeneous. Small bacilliform-like structures and irregular structures as well as wild-type-like T=3 particles were detected. The anticipated T=1 particles, on the other hand, were not observed. We conclude that residues 20 to 30 are not critical for formation of flat protein contacts and formation of T=3 particles. However, the N terminus of the coat protein appears to play an essential role in regulating assembly such that only one product, T=3 particles, is synthesized.