Cryo-EM structure of the bacteriophage T4 isometric head at 3.3-Å resolution and its relevance to the assembly of icosahedral viruses

Zhenguo Chen, Lei Sun, Zhihong Zhang, Andrei Fokine, Victor Padilla-Sanchez, Dorit Hanein, Wen Jiang, Michael G. Rossmann, Venigalla B. Rao

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The 3.3-Å cryo-EM structure of the 860-Å-diameter isometric mutant bacteriophage T4 capsid has been determined. WT T4 has a prolate capsid characterized by triangulation numbers (T numbers) Tend = 13 for end caps and Tmid = 20 for midsection. A mutation in the major capsid protein, gp23, produced T=13 icosahedral capsids. The capsid is stabilized by 660 copies of the outer capsid protein, Soc, which clamp adjacent gp23 hexamers. The occupancies of Soc molecules are proportional to the size of the angle between the planes of adjacent hexameric capsomers. The angle between adjacent hexameric capsomers is greatest around the fivefold vertices, where there is the largest deviation from a planar hexagonal array. Thus, the Soc molecules reinforce the structure where there is the greatest strain in the gp23 hexagonal lattice. Mutations that change the angles between adjacent capsomers affect the positions of the pentameric vertices, resulting in different triangulation numbers in bacteriophage T4. The analysis of the T4 mutant head assembly gives guidance to how other icosahedral viruses reproducibly assemble into capsids with a predetermined T number, although the influence of scaffolding proteins is also important.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E8184-E8193
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
StatePublished - Sep 26 2017



  • Bacteriophage T4
  • Capsid decoration proteins
  • Isometric head
  • Triangulation numbers
  • Virus capsid assembly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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