The Impact of Viral RNA on the Association Rates of Capsid Protein Assembly: Bacteriophage MS2 as a Case Study

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A large number of single-stranded RNA viruses, which form a major class of all viruses, co-assemble their protein container and their genomic material. The multiple roles of the viral genome in this process are presently only partly understood. Recent experimental results indicate that RNA, in addition to its function as a repository for genetic information, could play important functional roles during the assembly of the viral protein containers. An investigation of the impact of genomic RNA on the association of the protein subunits may therefore provide further insights into the mechanism of virus assembly. We study here the impact of viral RNA on the association rates of the capsid proteins during virus assembly. As a case study, we consider the viral capsid of bacteriophage MS2, which is formed from 60 asymmetric (AB) and 30 symmetric (CC) protein dimers. Using Brownian dynamics simulations, we investigate the effect of the binding of an RNA stem loop (the translational repressor) on the association rates of the capsid protein dimers. Our analysis shows that translational repressor binding results in self-association of AB dimers being inhibited, whilst association of AB with CC dimers is greatly enhanced. This provides an explanation for experimental results in which an alternating assembly pattern of AB and CC dimer addition to the growing assembly intermediate has been observed to be the dominant mode of assembly. The presence of the RNA hence dramatically decreases the number of dominant assembly pathways and thereby reduces the complexity of the self-assembly process of these viruses. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)935-947
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jul 2010


  • virus assembly
  • Brownian dynamics
  • MS2 virus
  • association rate

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