Visualization of uncorrelated, tandem symmetry mismatches in the internal genome packaging apparatus of bacteriophage T7

Fei Guo, Zheng Liu, Frank Vago, Yue Ren, Weimin Wu, Elena T. Wright, Philip Serwer, Wen Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Motor-driven packaging of a dsDNA genome into a preformed protein capsid through a unique portal vertex is essential in the life cycle of a large number of dsDNA viruses. We have used single-particle electron cryomicroscopy to study the multilayer structure of the portal vertex of the bacteriophage T7 procapsid, the recipient of T7 DNA in packaging. A focused asymmetric reconstruction method was developed and applied to selectively resolve neighboring pairs of symmetry-mismatched layers of the portal vertex. However, structural features in all layers of the multilayer portal vertex could not be resolved simultaneously. Our results imply that layers with mismatched symmetries can join together in several different relative orientations, and that orientations at different interfaces assort independently to produce structural isomers, a process that we call combinatorial assembly isomerism. This isomerism explains rotational smearing in previously reported asymmetric reconstructions of the portal vertex of T7 and other bacteriophages. Combinatorial assembly isomerism may represent a new regime of structural biology in which globally varying structures assemble from a common set of components. Our reconstructions collectively validate previously proposed symmetries, compositions, and sequential order of T7 portal vertex layers, resolving in tandem the 5-fold gene product 10 (gp10) shell, 12-fold gp8 portal ring, and an internal core stack consisting of 12-fold gp14 adaptor ring, 8-fold bowl-shaped gp15, and 4-fold gp16 tip. We also found a small tilt of the core stack relative to the icosahedral fivefold axis and propose that this tilt assists DNA spooling without tangling during packaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6811-6816
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
StatePublished - Apr 23 2013


  • 3-D reconstruction
  • DNA packaging
  • Precession
  • Single particle cryo-EM
  • Symmetry relaxation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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