The Trimeric Major Capsid Protein of Mavirus is stabilized by its Interlocked N-termini Enabling Core Flexibility for Capsid Assembly

Alexander Christiansen, Marie Weiel, Andreas Winkler, Alexander Schug, Jochen Reinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Icosahedral viral capsids assemble with high fidelity from a large number of identical buildings blocks. The mechanisms that enable individual capsid proteins to form stable oligomeric units (capsomers) while affording structural adaptability required for further assembly into capsids are mostly unknown. Understanding these mechanisms requires knowledge of the capsomers' dynamics, especially for viruses where no additional helper proteins are needed during capsid assembly like for the Mavirus virophage that despite its complexity (triangulation number T = 27) can assemble from its major capsid protein (MCP) alone. This protein forms the basic building block of the capsid namely a trimer (MCP3) of double-jelly roll protomers with highly intertwined N-terminal arms of each protomer wrapping around the other two at the base of the capsomer, secured by a clasp that is formed by part of the C-terminus. Probing the dynamics of the capsomer with HDX mass spectrometry we observed differences in conformational flexibility between functional elements of the MCP trimer. While the N-terminal arm and clasp regions show above average deuterium incorporation, the two jelly-roll units in each protomer also differ in their structural plasticity, which might be needed for efficient assembly. Assessing the role of the N-terminal arm in maintaining capsomer stability showed that its detachment is required for capsomer dissociation, constituting a barrier towards capsomer monomerisation. Surprisingly, capsomer dissociation was irreversible since it was followed by a global structural rearrangement of the protomers as indicated by computational studies showing a rearrangement of the N-terminus blocking part of the capsomer forming interface.

Original languageEnglish
Article number166859
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2021


  • Capsid/chemistry
  • Capsid Proteins/genetics
  • Macromolecular Substances/ultrastructure
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Multimerization/genetics
  • Virion/genetics
  • Virus Assembly/genetics
  • Viruses/genetics
  • MD simulation
  • virus protein
  • protein folding and assembly
  • HDX-MS
  • structural dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology

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