Direct interaction between two viral proteins, the nonstructural protein 2C and the capsid protein VP3, is required for enterovirus morphogenesis

PLoS Pathog. 2010 Aug 26;6(8):e1001066. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1001066.


In spite of decades-long studies, the mechanism of morphogenesis of plus-stranded RNA viruses belonging to the genus Enterovirus of Picornaviridae, including poliovirus (PV), is not understood. Numerous attempts to identify an RNA encapsidation signal have failed. Genetic studies, however, have implicated a role of the non-structural protein 2C(ATPase) in the formation of poliovirus particles. Here we report a novel mechanism in which protein-protein interaction is sufficient to explain the specificity in PV encapsidation. Making use of a novel "reporter virus", we show that a quasi-infectious chimera consisting of the capsid precursor of C-cluster coxsackie virus 20 (C-CAV20) and the nonstructural proteins of the closely related PV translated and replicated its genome with wild type kinetics, whereas encapsidation was blocked. On blind passages, encapsidation of the chimera was rescued by a single mutation either in capsid protein VP3 of CAV20 or in 2C(ATPase) of PV. Whereas each of the single-mutation variants expressed severe proliferation phenotypes, engineering both mutations into the chimera yielded a virus encapsidating with wild type kinetics. Biochemical analyses provided strong evidence for a direct interaction between 2C(ATPase) and VP3 of PV and CAV20. Chimeras of other C-CAVs (CAV20/CAV21 or CAV18/CAV20) were blocked in encapsidation (no virus after blind passages) but could be rescued if the capsid and 2C(ATPase) coding regions originated from the same virus. Our novel mechanism explains the specificity of encapsidation without apparent involvement of an RNA signal by considering that (i) genome replication is known to be stringently linked to translation, (ii) morphogenesis is known to be stringently linked to genome replication, (iii) newly synthesized 2C(ATPase) is an essential component of the replication complex, and (iv) 2C(ATPase) has specific affinity to capsid protein(s). These conditions lead to morphogenesis at the site where newly synthesized genomes emerge from the replication complex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Capsid Proteins / genetics
  • Capsid Proteins / metabolism*
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Enterovirus / physiology*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • Poliovirus / genetics
  • Poliovirus / metabolism
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / metabolism*
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism*
  • Virus Replication / physiology*


  • Capsid Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • RNA, Viral
  • VP3 protein, Poliovirus
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins
  • Viral Proteins
  • 2C protein, viral