Structure and assembly of the essential RNA ring component of a viral DNA packaging motor

Fang Ding, Changrui Lu, Wei Zhao, Kanagalaghatta R. Rajashankar, Dwight L. Anderson, Paul J. Jardine, Shelley Grimes, Ailong Ke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Prohead RNA (pRNA) is an essential component in the assembly and operation of the powerful bacteriophage φ29 DNA packaging motor. The pRNA forms a multimeric ring via intermolecular base-pairing interactions between protomers that serves to guide the assembly of the ring ATPase that drives DNA packaging. Here we report the quaternary structure of this rare multimeric RNA at 3.5 Å resolution, crystallized as tetrameric rings. Strong quaternary interactions and the inherent flexibility helped rationalize how free pRNA is able to adopt multiple oligomerization states in solution. These characteristics also allowed excellent fitting of the crystallographic pRNA protomers into previous prohead/pRNA cryo-EM reconstructions, supporting the presence of a pentameric, but not hexameric, pRNA ring in the context of the DNA packaging motor. The pentameric pRNA ring anchors itself directly to the phage prohead by interacting specifically with the fivefold symmetric capsid structures that surround the head-tail connector portal. From these contacts, five RNA superhelices project from the pRNA ring, where they serve as scaffolds for binding and assembly of the ring ATPase, and possibly mediate communication between motor components. Construction of structure-based designer pRNAs with little sequence similarity to the wild-type pRNA were shown to fully support the packaging of φ29 DNA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7357-7362
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 3 2011


  • Bacteriophage phi29
  • Gp16
  • Molecular motor
  • Oligomeric RNA


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