Structural Studies on SeMV Chimeras and TSV : Insights into Capsid Assembly
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Assembly of virus capsid protein (CP) into icosahedrally symmetric particles is an intriguing and elegant process. In most cases of virus assembly, a large number of identical protein subunits self-assemble to generate a shell that protects the viral genome. Studies on virus assembly have resulted in a new scientific technique that uses these proteinaceous shells as nano-particles for a variety of biological applications. The current thesis deals with understanding the factors that govern the assembly of the Sesbania mosaic virus (SeMV) and a pleomorphic virus, Tobacco streak virus (TSV). CP of SeMV, a T=3 plant virus, consists of a disordered N-terminal R-domain and an ordered S-domain. The importance of the R-domain in the assembly was probed by replacement with polypeptides such as the B-domain of Staphylococcus aureus protein A and polypeptides P10 and P8 of SeMV. These chimera assembled into T=3 or larger virus like particles (VLPs). Addition of divalent cations resulted in the formation of heterogeneous nucleoprotein complexes that disappeared upon treatment with EDTA/RNAse. One of the chimeras (N∆65-B) purified in a dimeric form by affinity chromatography assembled into T=1 VLPs during crystallization. The three dimensional structure of these VLPs showed that they were devoid of divalent ions and the B-domain was disordered. These studies demonstrate the importance of N-terminal residues, metal ions in virus assembly and robustness of the assembly process. Also, the B-domain was functional in N∆65-B VLPs, suggesting possible biotechnological applications. Tobacco streak virus (TSV) is a polymorphic virus and a major plant pathogen. TSV capsids encapsidate the tri-partite ss-RNA genome of the virus in three spheroidal particles of diameters 27, 30 and 33 nm, respectively. CPs of ilarviruses are also involved in genome activation. The labile nature of ilarviruses has posed difficulties in their structure determination. This thesis describes the first crystal structure of truncated TSV-CP. The core of TSV CP conforms to the canonical β-barrel jelly roll tertiary structure found in other viral coat proteins. Dimers of CP with swapped C-terminal arms (C-arm) were observed in the two crystal structures determined. The C-arm was found to be flexible and responsible for the polymorphic and pleomorphic nature of TSV capsids. Mutations in the hinge region of the C-arm that reduce the flexibility resulted in the formation of more uniform particles. TSV CP was also found to be structurally similar to that of Alfalfa mosaic virus (AMV) accounting for similar mechanism of genome activation in alfamo and ilar viruses.