A viral packaging motor varies its DNA rotation and step size to preserve subunit coordination as the capsid fills

Cell. 2014 Apr 24;157(3):702-713. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.02.034.


Multimeric, ring-shaped molecular motors rely on the coordinated action of their subunits to perform crucial biological functions. During these tasks, motors often change their operation in response to regulatory signals. Here, we investigate a viral packaging machine as it fills the capsid with DNA and encounters increasing internal pressure. We find that the motor rotates the DNA during packaging and that the rotation per base pair increases with filling. This change accompanies a reduction in the motor's step size. We propose that these adjustments preserve motor coordination by allowing one subunit to make periodic, specific, and regulatory contacts with the DNA. At high filling, we also observe the downregulation of the ATP-binding rate and the emergence of long-lived pauses, suggesting a throttling-down mechanism employed by the motor near the completion of packaging. This study illustrates how a biological motor adjusts its operation in response to changing conditions, while remaining highly coordinated.

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

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Bacillus Phages / physiology*
  • Capsid / chemistry
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / metabolism*
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism*
  • Virus Assembly*


  • DNA, Viral
  • Molecular Motor Proteins
  • Viral Proteins
  • Adenosine Triphosphate