Rotavirus architecture at subnanometer resolution

J Virol. 2009 Feb;83(4):1754-66. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01855-08. Epub 2008 Nov 26.


Rotavirus, a nonturreted member of the Reoviridae, is the causative agent of severe infantile diarrhea. The double-stranded RNA genome encodes six structural proteins that make up the triple-layer particle. X-ray crystallography has elucidated the structure of one of these capsid proteins, VP6, and two domains from VP4, the spike protein. Complementing this work, electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM) has provided relatively low-resolution structures for the triple-layer capsid in several biochemical states. However, a complete, high-resolution structural model of rotavirus remains unresolved. Combining new structural analysis techniques with the subnanometer-resolution cryoEM structure of rotavirus, we now provide a more detailed structural model for the major capsid proteins and their interactions within the triple-layer particle. Through a series of intersubunit interactions, the spike protein (VP4) adopts a dimeric appearance above the capsid surface, while forming a trimeric base anchored inside one of the three types of aqueous channels between VP7 and VP6 capsid layers. While the trimeric base suggests the presence of three VP4 molecules in one spike, only hints of the third molecule are observed above the capsid surface. Beyond their interactions with VP4, the interactions between VP6 and VP7 subunits could also be readily identified. In the innermost T=1 layer composed of VP2, visualization of the secondary structure elements allowed us to identify the polypeptide fold for VP2 and examine the complex network of interactions between this layer and the T=13 VP6 layer. This integrated structural approach has resulted in a relatively high-resolution structural model for the complete, infectious structure of rotavirus, as well as revealing the subtle nuances required for maintaining interactions in such a large macromolecular assembly.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Capsid Proteins / ultrastructure*
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Protein Structure, Quaternary
  • Rotavirus / ultrastructure*


  • Capsid Proteins