In a nutshell: structure and assembly of the vaccinia virion

Adv Virus Res. 2006;66:31-124. doi: 10.1016/S0065-3527(06)66002-8.


Poxviruses comprise a large family of viruses characterized by a large, linear dsDNA genome, a cytoplasmic site of replication and a complex virion morphology. The most notorious member of the poxvirus family is variola, the causative agent of smallpox. The laboratory prototype virus used for the study of poxviruses is vaccinia, the virus that was used as a live, naturally attenuated vaccine for the eradication of smallpox. Both the morphogenesis and structure of poxvirus virions are unique among viruses. Poxvirus virions apparently lack any of the symmetry features common to other viruses such as helical or icosahedral capsids or nucleocapsids. Instead poxvirus virions appear as "brick shaped" or "ovoid" membrane-bound particles with a complex internal structure featuring a walled, biconcave core flanked by "lateral bodies." The virion assembly pathway involves a remarkable fabrication of membrane-containing crescents and immature virions, which evolve into mature virions in a process that is unparalleled in virology. As a result of significant advances in poxvirus genetics and molecular biology during the past 15 years, we can now positively identify over 70 specific gene products contained in poxvirus virions, and we can describe the effects of mutations in over 50 specific genes on poxvirus assembly. This review summarizes these advances and attempts to assemble them into a comprehensible and thoughtful picture of poxvirus structure and assembly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Vaccinia virus / genetics*
  • Vaccinia virus / metabolism*
  • Vaccinia virus / ultrastructure*
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism
  • Virion / genetics
  • Virion / metabolism*
  • Virion / ultrastructure*
  • Virus Assembly*


  • Viral Proteins