Atomistic mechanism of force generation, translocation, and coordination in a viral genome packaging motor

Joshua Pajak, Erik Dill, Mark A. White, Brian A. Kelch, Paul Jardine, Gaurav Arya, Marc C. Morais

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Double-stranded DNA viruses package their genomes into pre-assembled protein capsids using virally-encoded ATPase ring motors. While several structures of isolated monomers (subunits) from these motors have been determined, they provide little insight into how subunits within a functional ring coordinate their activities to efficiently generate force and translocate DNA. Here we describe the first atomic-resolution structure of a functional ring form of a viral DNA packaging motor and characterize its atomic-level dynamics via long timescale molecular dynamics simulations. Crystal structures of the pentameric ATPase ring from bacteriophage asccφ28 show that each subunit consists of a canonical N-terminal ASCE ATPase domain connected to a ‘vestigial’ nuclease domain by a small lid subdomain. The lid subdomain closes over the ATPase active site and engages in extensive interactions with a neighboring subunit such that several important catalytic residues are positioned to function in trans. The pore of the ring is lined with several positively charged residues that can interact with DNA. Simulations of the ATPase ring in various nucleotide-bound states provide information about how the motor coordinates sequential nucleotide binding, hydrolysis, and exchange around the ring. Simulations also predict that the ring adopts a helical structure to track DNA, consistent with recent cryo-EM reconstruction of the φ29 packaging ATPase. Based on these results, an atomistic model of viral DNA packaging is proposed wherein DNA translocation is powered by stepwise helical-to-planar ring transitions that are tightly coordinated by ATP binding, hydrolysis, and release.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Jul 28 2020


  • ASCE
  • ATPase
  • Bacteriophage
  • Crystal structure
  • DNA
  • DNA packaging
  • Molecular dynamics simulations
  • Molecular motor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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