During virion maturation, the Rous sarcoma virus (RSV) capsid protein is cleaved from the Gag protein as the proteolytic intermediate CA-SP. Further trimming at two C-terminal sites removes the spacer peptide (SP), producing the mature capsid proteins CA and CA-S. Abundant genetic and structural evidence shows that the SP plays a critical role in stabilizing hexameric Gag interactions that form immature particles. Freeing of CA-SP from Gag breaks immature interfaces and initiates the formation of mature capsids. The transient persistence of CA-SP in maturing virions and the identification of second-site mutations in SP that restore infectivity to maturation-defective mutant viruses led us to hypothesize that SP may play an important role in promoting the assembly of mature capsids. This study presents a biophysical and biochemical characterization of CA-SP and its assembly behavior. Our results confirm cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structures reported previously by Keller et al. (J. Virol. 87:13655-13664, 2013, doi:10.1128/JVI.01408-13) showing that monomeric CA-SP is fully capable of assembling into capsid-like structures identical to those formed by CA. Furthermore, SP confers aggressive assembly kinetics, which is suggestive of higher-affinity CA-SP interactions than observed with either of the mature capsid proteins. This aggressive assembly is largely independent of the SP amino acid sequence, but the formation of well-ordered particles is sensitive to the presence of the N-terminal β-hairpin. Additionally, CA-SP can nucleate the assembly of CA and CA-S. These results suggest a model in which CA-SP, once separated from the Gag lattice, can actively promote the interactions that form mature capsids and provide a nucleation point for mature capsid assembly.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science