Monitoring structural transitions in icosahedral virus protein cages by site-directed spin labeling

J Am Chem Soc. 2011 Mar 30;133(12):4156-9. doi: 10.1021/ja107650c. Epub 2011 Mar 9.


This work describes an approach for calculating and measuring dipolar interactions in multispin systems to monitor conformational changes in icosahedral protein cages using site-directed spin labeling. Cowpea chlorotic mottle virus (CCMV) is used as a template that undergoes a pH-dependent reversible capsid expansion wherein the protein cage swells by 10%. The sequence-position-dependent geometric presentation of attached spin-label groups provides a strategy for targeting amino acid residues most probative of structural change. The labeled protein cage residues and structural transition were found to affect the local mobility and dipolar interactions of the spin label, respectively. Line-shape changes provided a spectral signature that could be used to follow the conformational change in CCMV coat dynamics. The results provide evidence for a concerted swelling process in which the cages exist in only two structural forms, with essentially no intermediates. This methodology can be generalized for all symmetry types of icosahedral protein architectures to monitor protein cage dynamics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bromovirus / chemistry*
  • Bromovirus / metabolism*
  • Capsid / chemistry
  • Capsid / metabolism*
  • Capsid Proteins / chemistry
  • Capsid Proteins / metabolism*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Protein Conformation
  • Spin Labels*


  • Capsid Proteins
  • Spin Labels