The adeno-associated virus (AAV) serves as a broadly used vector system for in vivo gene delivery. The process of AAV capsid assembly remains poorly understood. The viral cofactor assembly-activating protein (AAP) is required for maximum AAV production and has multiple roles in capsid assembly, namely, trafficking of the structural proteins (VP) to the nuclear site of assembly, promoting the stability of VP against multiple degradation pathways, and facilitating stable interactions between VP monomers. The N-terminal 60 amino acids of AAP (AAPN) are essential for these functions. Presumably, AAP must physically interact with VP to execute its multiple functions, but the molecular nature of the AAP-VP interaction is not well understood. Here, we query how structurally related AAVs functionally engage AAP from AAV serotype 2 (AAP2) toward virion assembly. These studies led to the identification of key residues on the lumenal capsid surface that are important for AAP-VP and for VP-VP interactions. Replacing a cluster of glutamic acid residues with a glutamine-rich motif on the conserved VP beta-barrel structure of variants incompatible with AAP2 creates a gain-of-function mutant compatible with AAP2. Conversely, mutating positively charged residues within the hydrophobic region of AAP2 and conserved core domains within AAPN creates a gain-of-function AAP2 mutant that rescues assembly of the incompatible variant. Our results suggest a model for capsid assembly where surface charge/neutrality dictates an interaction between AAPN and the lumenal VP surface to nucleate capsid assembly.IMPORTANCE Efforts to engineer the AAV capsid to gain desirable properties for gene therapy (e.g., tropism, reduced immunogenicity, and higher potency) require that capsid modifications do not affect particle assembly. The relationship between VP and the cofactor that facilitates its assembly, AAP, is central to both assembly preservation and vector production. Understanding the requirements for this compatibility can inform manufacturing strategies to maximize production and reduce costs. Additionally, library-based approaches that simultaneously examine a large number of capsid variants would benefit from a universally functional AAP, which could hedge against overlooking variants with potentially valuable phenotypes that were lost during vector library production due to incompatibility with the cognate AAP. Studying interactions between the structural and nonstructural components of AAV enhances our fundamental knowledge of capsid assembly mechanisms and the protein-protein interactions required for productive assembly of the icosahedral capsid.
Keywords: AAP; AAV; adeno-associated virus; ancestral sequence reconstruction; assembly-activating protein; capsid assembly; gene therapy; protein-protein interactions; vector engineering.
Copyright © 2019 American Society for Microbiology.