Proteins forming the tegument layers of herpesviral virions mediate many essential processes in the viral replication cycle, yet few have been characterized in detail. UL21 is one such multifunctional tegument protein and is conserved among alphaherpesviruses. While UL21 has been implicated in many processes in viral replication, ranging from nuclear egress to virion morphogenesis to cell-cell spread, its precise roles remain unclear. Here we report the 2.7-Å crystal structure of the C-terminal domain of herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) UL21 (UL21C), which has a unique α-helical fold resembling a dragonfly. Analysis of evolutionary conservation patterns and surface electrostatics pinpointed four regions of potential functional importance on the surface of UL21C to be pursued by mutagenesis. In combination with the previously determined structure of the N-terminal domain of UL21, the structure of UL21C provides a 3-dimensional framework for targeted exploration of the multiple roles of UL21 in the replication and pathogenesis of alphaherpesviruses. Additionally, we describe an unanticipated ability of UL21 to bind RNA, which may hint at a yet unexplored function.
Importance: Due to the limited genomic coding capacity of viruses, viral proteins are often multifunctional, which makes them attractive antiviral targets. Such multifunctionality, however, complicates their study, which often involves constructing and characterizing null mutant viruses. Systematic exploration of these multifunctional proteins requires detailed road maps in the form of 3-dimensional structures. In this work, we determined the crystal structure of the C-terminal domain of UL21, a multifunctional tegument protein that is conserved among alphaherpesviruses. Structural analysis pinpointed surface areas of potential functional importance that provide a starting point for mutagenesis. In addition, the unexpected RNA-binding ability of UL21 may expand its functional repertoire. The structure of UL21C and the observation of its RNA-binding ability are the latest additions to the navigational chart that can guide the exploration of the multiple functions of UL21.
Copyright © 2016, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.