The assembly of hundreds of identical proteins into an icosahedral virus capsid is a remarkable feat of molecular engineering. How this occurs is poorly understood. Key intermediates have been anticipated at the end of the assembly reaction, but it has not been possible to detect them. In this work we have used charge detection mass spectrometry to identify trapped intermediates from late in the assembly of the hepatitis B virus T = 4 capsid, a complex of 120 protein dimers. Prominent intermediates are found with 104/105, 110/111, and 117/118 dimers. Cryo-EM observations indicate the intermediates are incomplete capsids and, hence, on the assembly pathway. On the basis of their stability and kinetic accessibility we have proposed plausible structures. The prominent trapped intermediate with 104 dimers is attributed to an icosahedron missing two neighboring facets, the 111-dimer species is assigned to an icosahedron missing a single facet, and the intermediate with 117 dimers is assigned to a capsid missing a ring of three dimers in the center of a facet.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry