The Ebola virus matrix protein VP40 forms distinct structures linked to distinct functions in the virus life cycle. Dimeric VP40 is a structural protein associated with virus assembly, while octameric, ring-shaped VP40 is associated with transcriptional control. In this study, we show that suitable nucleic acid is sufficient to trigger a dynamic transformation of VP40 dimer into the octameric ring. Deep sequencing reveals a binding preference of the VP40 ring for the 3' untranslated region of cellular mRNA and a guanine- and adenine-rich binding motif. Complementary analyses of the nucleic-acid-induced VP40 ring by native mass spectrometry, electron microscopy, and X-ray crystal structures at 1.8 and 1.4 Å resolution reveal the stoichiometry of RNA binding, as well as an interface involving a key guanine nucleotide. The host factor-induced structural transformation of protein structure in response to specific RNA triggers in the Ebola virus life cycle presents unique opportunities for therapeutic inhibition.
Keywords: 3′ UTR; Ebola virus; VP40; crystal structure; deep sequencing; ebolavirus; mRNA; matrix protein; native mass spectrometry; transformer protein.
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