The genomic material of hepatitis B virus (HBV) is confined within a fenestrated nucleocapsid consisting of 240 identical copies of the capsid protein, which has a rigid core and a positively charged and highly flexible C-terminal domain (CTD). Although previous mutagenesis studies have demonstrated the importance of the CTD in viral RNA packaging and reverse transcription, the microscopic structure of the CTD and its interaction with encapsidated nucleic acids at various stages of viral maturation remain poorly understood. Here, we present a theoretical analysis of the radial distributions of the CTD chains and nucleic acids in the hepatitis B virus nucleocapsid at the beginning and final stages of viral reverse transcription based on classical density functional theory and a coarse-gained model for the pertinent biomolecules. We find that a significant portion of the CTD is exposed at the surface of the RNA-containing immature nucleocapsid and that the CTD is mostly confined within the DNA-containing mature nucleocapsid. Large accumulation of cations is predicted inside both immature and mature nucleocapsids. The theoretical results provide new insights into the molecular mechanism of CTD regulation of viral reverse transcription and nucleocapsid trafficking during various stages of the viral replication processes.
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