Mapping and Engineering Functional Domains of the Assembly-Activating Protein of Adeno-associated Viruses

J Virol. 2018 Jun 29;92(14):e00393-18. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00393-18. Print 2018 Jul 15.


Adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) encode a unique assembly-activating protein (AAP) within their genomes that is essential for capsid assembly. Studies to date have focused on establishing the role of AAP as a chaperone that mediates the stability, nucleolar transport, and assembly of AAV capsid proteins. Here, we map structure-function correlates of AAP using secondary structure analysis, followed by deletion and substitutional mutagenesis of specific domains, namely, the N-terminal hydrophobic region (HR), conserved core (CC), proline-rich region (PRR), threonine/serine-rich region (T/S), and basic region (BR). First, we establish that the centrally located PRR and T/S are flexible linker domains that can either be deleted completely or replaced by heterologous functional domains that enable ancillary functions such as fluorescent imaging or increased AAP stability. We also demonstrate that the C-terminal BR domains can be substituted with heterologous nuclear or nucleolar localization sequences that display various abilities to support AAV capsid assembly. Further, by replacing the BR domain with immunoglobulin (IgG) Fc domains, we assessed AAP complexation with AAV capsid subunits and demonstrate that the hydrophobic region (HR) and the conserved core (CC) in the AAP N terminus are the sole determinants for viral protein (VP) recognition. However, VP recognition alone is not sufficient for capsid assembly. Our study sheds light on the modular structure-function correlates of AAP and provides multiple approaches to engineer AAP that might prove useful toward understanding and controlling AAV capsid assembly.IMPORTANCE Adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) encode a unique assembly-activating protein (AAP) within their genomes that is essential for capsid assembly. Understanding how AAP acts as a chaperone for viral assembly could help improve efficiency and potentially control this process. Our studies reveal that AAP has a modular architecture, with each module playing a distinct role and can be engineered for carrying out new functions.

Keywords: adeno-associated virus; assembly-activating protein; capsid assembly; chaperones; gene therapy; nucleolus; scaffold.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Capsid Proteins / chemistry*
  • Capsid Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Dependovirus / physiology*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Nuclear Localization Signals
  • Parvoviridae Infections / virology*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Domains
  • Protein Stability
  • Protein Transport
  • Virion
  • Virus Assembly*


  • Capsid Proteins
  • Nuclear Localization Signals