Multiple subunits of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) core protein (HBc) assemble into an icosahedral capsid that packages the viral pregenomic RNA (pgRNA). The N-terminal domain (NTD) of HBc is sufficient for capsid assembly, in the absence of pgRNA or any other viral or host factors, under conditions of high HBc and/or salt concentrations. The C-terminal domain (CTD) is deemed dispensable for capsid assembly although it is essential for pgRNA packaging. We report here that HBc expressed in a mammalian cell lysate, rabbit reticulocyte lysate (RRL), was able to assemble into capsids when (low-nanomolar) HBc concentrations mimicked those achieved under conditions of viral replication in vivo and were far below those used previously for capsid assembly in vitro. Furthermore, at physiologically low HBc concentrations in RRL, the NTD was insufficient for capsid assembly and the CTD was also required. The CTD likely facilitated assembly under these conditions via RNA binding and protein-protein interactions. Moreover, the CTD underwent phosphorylation and dephosphorylation events in RRL similar to those seen in vivo which regulated capsid assembly. Importantly, the NTD alone also failed to accumulate in mammalian cells, likely resulting from its failure to assemble efficiently. Coexpression of the full-length HBc rescued NTD assembly in RRL as well as NTD expression and assembly in mammalian cells, resulting in the formation of mosaic capsids containing both full-length HBc and the NTD. These results have important implications for HBV assembly during replication and provide a facile cell-free system to study capsid assembly under physiologically relevant conditions, including its modulation by host factors.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science