An alphavirus temperature-sensitive capsid mutant reveals stages of nucleocapsid assembly

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Alphaviruses have a nucleocapsid core composed of the RNA genome surrounded by an icosahedral lattice of capsid protein. An insertion after position 186 in the capsid protein produced a strongly temperature-sensitive growth phenotype. Even when the structural proteins were synthesized at the permissive temperature (28. °C), subsequent incubation of the cells at the non-permissive temperature (37. °C) dramatically decreased mutant capsid protein stability and particle assembly. Electron microscopy confirmed the presence of cytoplasmic nucleocapsids in mutant-infected cells cultured at the permissive temperature, but these nucleocapsids were not stable to sucrose gradient separation. In contrast, nucleocapsids isolated from mutant virus particles had similar stability to that of wildtype virus. Our data support a model in which cytoplasmic nucleocapsids go through a maturation step during packaging into virus particles. The insertion site lies in the interface between capsid proteins in the assembled nucleocapsid, suggesting the region where such a stabilizing transition occurs.




Zheng, Y., & Kielian, M. (2015). An alphavirus temperature-sensitive capsid mutant reveals stages of nucleocapsid assembly. Virology, 484, 412–420.

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