Background: Rice yellow mottle virus (RYMV) is a major pathogen that dramatically reduces rice production in many African countries. RYMV belongs to the genus sobemovirus, one group of plant viruses with icosahedral capsids and single-stranded, positive-sense RNA genomes.
Results: The structure of RYMV was determined and refined to 2.8 A resolution by X-ray crystallography. The capsid contains 180 copies of the coat protein subunit arranged with T = 3 icosahedral symmetry. Each subunit adopts a jelly-roll beta sandwich fold. The RYMV capsid structure is similar to those of other sobemoviruses. When compared with these viruses, however, the betaA arm of the RYMV C subunit, which is a molecular switch that regulates quasi-equivalent subunit interactions, is swapped with the 2-fold-related betaA arm to a similar, noncovalent bonding environment. This exchange of identical structural elements across a symmetry axis is categorized as 3D domain swapping and produces long-range interactions throughout the icosahedral surface lattice. Biochemical analysis supports the notion that 3D domain swapping increases the stability of RYMV.
Conclusions: The quasi-equivalent interactions between the RYMV proteins are regulated by the N-terminal ordered residues of the betaA arm, which functions as a molecular switch. Comparative analysis suggests that this molecular switch can also modulate the stability of the viral capsids.