The four brome mosaic virus (BMV) RNAs (RNA1 to RNA4) are encapsidated in three distinct virions that have different disassembly rates in infection. The mechanism for the differential release of BMV RNAs from virions is unknown, since 180 copies of the same coat protein (CP) encapsidate each of the BMV genomic RNAs. Using mass spectrometry, we found that the BMV CP contains a complex pattern of posttranslational modifications. Treatment with phosphatase was found to not significantly affect the stability of the virions containing RNA1 but significantly impacted the stability of the virions that encapsidated BMV RNA2 and RNA3/4. Cryo-electron microscopy reconstruction revealed dramatic structural changes in the capsid and the encapsidated RNA. A phosphomimetic mutation in the flexible N-terminal arm of the CP increased BMV RNA replication and virion production. The degree of phosphorylation modulated the interaction of CP with the encapsidated RNA and the release of three of the BMV RNAs. UV cross-linking and immunoprecipitation methods coupled to high-throughput sequencing experiments showed that phosphorylation of the BMV CP can impact binding to RNAs in the virions, including sequences that contain regulatory motifs for BMV RNA gene expression and replication. Phosphatase-treated virions affected the timing of CP expression and viral RNA replication in plants. The degree of phosphorylation decreased when the plant hosts were grown at an elevated temperature. These results show that phosphorylation of the capsid modulates BMV infection.
Importance: How icosahedral viruses regulate the release of viral RNA into the host is not well understood. The selective release of viral RNA can regulate the timing of replication and gene expression. Brome mosaic virus (BMV) is an RNA virus, and its three genomic RNAs are encapsidated in separate virions. Through proteomic, structural, and biochemical analyses, this work shows that posttranslational modifications, specifically, phosphorylation, on the capsid protein regulate the capsid-RNA interaction and the stability of the virions and affect viral gene expression. Mutational analysis confirmed that changes in modification affected virion stability and the timing of viral infection. The mechanism for modification of the virion has striking parallels to the mechanism of regulation of chromatin packaging by nucleosomes.
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