The mature nucleocapsid (NC) of hepatitis B virus containing the relaxed circular (RC) DNA genome can be secreted extracellularly as virions after envelopment with the viral surface proteins or, alternatively, can be disassembled to release RC DNA (i.e., uncoating) into the host cell nucleus to form the covalently closed circular (CCC) DNA, which sustains viral replication and persistence. In contrast, immature NCs containing the viral single-stranded DNA or the pregenomic RNA are incompetent for either envelopment or uncoating. Little is currently known about how mature NCs, and not the immature ones, are specifically selected for these processes. Here, we have carried out a biochemical analysis of the different NC populations upon their separation through sucrose gradient centrifugation. We have found that the maturation of NCs is associated with their destabilization, manifested as increased protease and nuclease sensitivity, altered sedimentation during sucrose gradient centrifugation, and retarded mobility during native agarose gel electrophoresis. Also, three distinct populations of intracellular mature NCs could be differentiated based on these characteristics. Furthermore, mature NCs generated in vitro under cell-free conditions acquired similar properties. These results have thus revealed significant structural changes associated with NC maturation that likely play a role in the selective uncoating of the mature NC for CCC DNA formation and/or its preferential envelopment for virion secretion.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science