Earnshaw, W. and King, J. (1978) J Mol Biol., 126(4), 721-747.

Structure of phage P22 coat protein aggregates formed in the absence of the scaffolding protein.


Previous studies have shown that the assembly of the precursor shell (prohead) of bacteriophage P22 requires the copolymerization of the gene 5 coat protein with the gene 8 scaffolding protein. Removal of the scaffolding protein by mutation prevents efficient coat protein asembly, but some aberrant particles do form. We have now isolated these structures and characterized them with respect to morphology, protein comosition, and small-antle X-ray scattering properties.

The aberrant particles fall into three morphological classes, i.e. complex spirals and closed shells of two sizes. Small-angle X-ray scattering studies confirm that the larger particles are hollow shells with the radius of proheads (r = 260 Å), and not of the mature virus (r = 285 Å). These structures lack the inner shell of scaffolding protein found in proheads. The small particles have a radius of 195 Å, smaller than proheads, and appear to contain material, not scafolding protein, within the outer shell.

The aberrant particles contain two minor protein species, the gene 9 tailspike protein, and an unidentified 67,000 molecular weight polypeptide, probably from the host. Neither is found in normal proheads. Removal of gene 9 product by mutation did not affect the formation of the aggregates. Fractionation of the morphological classes of particles revealed that the 67,000 molecule weight band was asociated with the closed shells. It may be serving as a pseudo-initiator.

Earlier studies had shown that treatment of proheads with sodium dodecyl sulfate in vitro resulted in loss of the scaffolding protein, and expansion of the shell to the mature radius of 285 Å. When the 8— prohead-sized shells were treated similarly, they also expanded to the mature-sized shell. These reslts support the idea that there are at least two stable states of the coat protein, one of which, the prohead form, is an obligatory precursor of the mature form.

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