High Cooperativity of the SV40 Major Capsid Protein VP1 in Virus Assembly

PLoS One. 2007 Aug 22;2(8):e765. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000765.


SV40 is a small, non enveloped DNA virus with an icosahedral capsid of 45 nm. The outer shell is composed of pentamers of the major capsid protein, VP1, linked via their flexible carboxy-terminal arms. Its morphogenesis occurs by assembly of capsomers around the viral minichromosome. However the steps leading to the formation of mature virus are poorly understood. Intermediates of the assembly reaction could not be isolated from cells infected with wt SV40. Here we have used recombinant VP1 produced in insect cells for in vitro assembly studies around supercoiled heterologous plasmid DNA carrying a reporter gene. This strategy yields infective nanoparticles, affording a simple quantitative transduction assay. We show that VP1 assembles under physiological conditions into uniform nanoparticles of the same shape, size and CsCl density as the wild type virus. The stoichiometry is one DNA molecule per capsid. VP1 deleted in the C-arm, which is unable to assemble but can bind DNA, was inactive indicating genuine assembly rather than non-specific DNA-binding. The reaction requires host enzymatic activities, consistent with the participation of chaperones, as recently shown. Our results demonstrate dramatic cooperativity of VP1, with a Hill coefficient of approximately 6. These findings suggest that assembly may be a concerted reaction. We propose that concerted assembly is facilitated by simultaneous binding of multiple capsomers to a single DNA molecule, as we have recently reported, thus increasing their local concentration. Emerging principles of SV40 assembly may help understanding assembly of other complex systems. In addition, the SV40-based nanoparticles described here are potential gene therapy vectors that combine efficient gene delivery with safety and flexibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Capsid / chemistry
  • Capsid / metabolism
  • Capsid / ultrastructure
  • Capsid Proteins / genetics
  • Capsid Proteins / metabolism*
  • Capsid Proteins / ultrastructure
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Genetic Vectors
  • Humans
  • Nanoparticles
  • Simian virus 40 / chemistry
  • Simian virus 40 / genetics
  • Simian virus 40 / metabolism*
  • Virus Assembly*


  • Capsid Proteins
  • DNA, Viral