The bacteriophage phi 29 head-tail connector shows 13-fold symmetry in both hexagonally packed arrays and as single particles

Vladimir Tsuprun, D. Anderson, E. H. Egelman

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36 Scopus citations


The symmetry of the phi 29 head-tail connector is controversial: several studies of two-dimensional arrays of the connector have found a 12-fold symmetry, while a recent study of isolated particles has found a 13-fold symmetry. To investigate whether a polymorphism of the structure might explain these different results, electron microscopy and image analysis were used to study both isolated connectors and particles in hexagonally packed arrays. The hexagonally packed arrays have a P1 symmetry, and the connectors displayed 13 subunits both in the arrays and as isolated single particles. While we do not observe a polymorphism between connectors in two-dimensional arrays and as isolated particles, data show that the connectors can exist with either 12 or 13 subunits. A three-dimensional reconstruction of our 13-fold connector was generated by combining an averaged side-view projection with the known symmetry. The structure of rosettes of the connectors formed in the presence of phi 29 prohead RNA (pRNA) was also examined. These rosettes contain five connectors arranged about a single connector in the center, and this arrangement may reflect an essential role of the pRNA in mediating a symmetry mismatch between either a 12- or 13-fold symmetric connector and a putative fivefold symmetric prohead portal vertex into which the connector fits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2139-2150
Number of pages12
JournalBiophysical journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1994

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grants GM35269 (E. H. Egelman) and GM39931 and DE03606 (D. Anderson). We would like to thank Drs. Pawel Penczek and Joachim Frank for assis- tance with the SPIDER software system and for helpful discussions and Sarah Turnquist for purifying the connectors and pRNA. We also thank Drs. Jose-Maria Carazo and Jose Carrascosa for freely sharing their data and protein preparations, as well as for helpful discussions.


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