In vitro assembly of an empty picornavirus capsid follows a dodecahedral path

Chenglei Li, Joseph Che Yen Wang, Milton W. Taylor, Adam Zlotnick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The Picornaviridae are a large family of small, spherical RNA viruses that includes numerous pathogens. The picornavirus structural proteins VP0, VP1, and VP3 are believed to first form protomers, which then form 14S particles and subsequently assemble to form empty and RNA-filled particles. 14S particles have long been presumed to be pentamers. However, the structure of the 14S particles, their mechanism of assembly, and the role of empty particles during infection are all unknown. We established an in vitro assembly system for bovine enterovirus (BEV) by using purified baculovirus-expressed proteins. By Rayleigh scattering, we determined that 14S particles are 488 kDa, confirming they are pentamers. Image reconstructions based on negative-stain electron microscopy showed that 14S particles have 5-fold symmetry, and their structures correlate extremely well with the corresponding pentamer from crystal structures of mature BEV. Purified 14S particles readily assemble in response to increasing ionic strength or temperature to form 5.8-MDa 12-pentamer particles, indistinguishable from native empty particles. Surprisingly, empty particles were sufficiently stable that, under physiological conditions, dissociation is unlikely to be a biologically relevant reaction. This suggests that empty particles are not a storage form of 14S particles, at least for bovine enterovirus, but are either a dead-end product or direct precursor into which viral RNA is packaged by as-yet-unidentified machinery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13062-13069
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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