An essential step in the morphogenesis of tailed bacteriophages is the joining of heads and tails to form infectious virions. Our understanding of the maturation of complete virus particles remains incomplete. Through an unknown mechanism, phage T4 gene product 4 (gp4) plays an essential role in the head-tail joining step of T4-like phages. Alignment of T4 gp4 homologs identified a type II restriction endonuclease motif. Purified gp4 from both T4 and a marine T4-like bacteriophage, YC, have non-specific nuclease activity in vitro. Mutation of a single conserved amino acid residue in the endonuclease fold of T4 and YC gp4 abrogates nuclease activity. When expressed in trans, the wild type T4 gp4, but neither the mutated T4 protein nor the YC homolog, rescues a T4 gene 4 amber mutant phage. Thus the nuclease activity appears essential for morphogenesis, potentially by cleaving packaged DNA to enable the joining of heads to tails.
Keywords: Bacteriophage T4; Head-tail joining; Headful packaging; Terminase.
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