Model for the differential stabilities of rhinovirus and poliovirus to mild acidic pH, based on electrostatics calculations

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    Previous calculations of electrostatic interactions in the rhinovirus capsid have identified a subset of histidine residues, paired with lysine or arginine, that may be involved in pH-induced conformational changes related to viral uncoating. Further calculations with the finite difference method, accounting for the dielectric environment of the ionizable groups, suggest that charge burial in the crystal conformation will prevent protonation of these histidine residues in the pentamer-pentamer interface. Calculations with a modelled pentamer-pentamer interface in which three β-strands are removed recover mildly acidic pKa values for the histidines. These results are discussed in the context of the structural interactions of these three β-strands, which form a β-sheet extension from the rest of the capsid, and with regard to the conformation of the homologous β-sheet extension in poliovirus, which also possesses homologous histidine-lysine/arginine pairs. A model is developed in which the structural stability of the β-sheet extension is related to the difference in acid stability of rhinovirus and poliovirus. It is suggested that, for poliovirus prior to cell receptor binding, the β-sheet extension is stable at pH 3, the pentamer-pentamer interface histidines remain buried, and the virus is acid-stable. Cell receptor binding of poliovirus destabilizes the β-sheet extension and the acid lability that is proposed to result could be involved in viral uncoating. For rhinovirus it is suggested that the observed conformational change in the absence of cell receptor binding involves a further acidic pH-activated process or conformational fluctuations that rearrange the β-sheet extension and expose the pentamer-pentamer interface histidine residues to the acidic medium. Sequence analysis and electrostatics calculations reveal an aspartic acid in the β-sheet extension that may have different pKa values in rhinovirus and poliovirus.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)247-257
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of molecular biology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1992


    • Finite difference electrostatic modelling
    • pH-dependence
    • Picornaviruses
    • Viral uncoating


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