An atomic model of the outer layer of the bluetongue virus core derived from X-ray crystallography and electron cryomicroscopy

Structure. 1997 Jul 15;5(7):885-93. doi: 10.1016/s0969-2126(97)00243-8.


Background: Bluetongue virus (BTV), which belongs to the Reoviridae family and orbivirus genus, is a non-enveloped, icosahedral, double-stranded RNA virus. Several protein layers enclose its genome; upon cell entry the outer layer is stripped away leaving a core, the surface of which is composed of VP7. The structure of the trimeric VP7 molecule has previously been determined using X-ray crystallography. The articulated VP7 subunit consists of two domains, one which is largely alpha-helical and the other, smaller domain, is a beta barrel with jelly-roll topology. The relative orientations of these two domains vary in different crystal forms. The structure of VP7 and the organizations of 780 subunits of this molecule in the core of virus is central to the assembly and function of BTV.

Results: A 23 A resolution map of the core, determined using electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM) data, reveals that the 260 trimers of VP7 are organized on a rather precise T = 13 laevo icosahedral lattice, in accordance with the theory of quasi-equivalence. The VP7 layer occupies a shell that is between 260 A and 345 A from the centre of the core. Below this radius (230-260 A) lies the T = 1 layer of 120 molecules of VP3. By fitting the X-ray structure of an individual VP7 trimer onto the cryoEM BTV core structure, we have generated an atomic model of the VP7 layer of BTV. This demonstrates that one of the molecular structures seen in crystals of the isolated VP7 corresponds to the in vivo conformation of the molecule in the core.

Conclusions: The beta-barrel domains of VP7 are external to the core and interact with protein in the outer layer of the mature virion. The lower, alpha-helical domains of VP7 interact with VP3 molecules which form the inner layer of the BTV core. Adjacent VP7 trimer-trimer interactions in the T = 13 layer are mediated principally through well-defined regions in the broader lower domains, to form a structure that conforms well with that expected from the theory of quasi-equivalence with no significant conformational changes within the individual trimers. The VP3 layer determines the particle size and forms a rather smooth surface upon which the two-dimensional lattice of VP7 trimers is laid down.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bluetongue virus / chemistry*
  • Computer Graphics
  • Crystallography, X-Ray / methods
  • Freezing
  • Microscopy, Electron / methods
  • Models, Structural
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Viral Core Proteins / chemistry*
  • Viral Core Proteins / ultrastructure
  • X-Ray Diffraction


  • Viral Core Proteins