Crystal and cryoEM structural studies of a cell wall degrading enzyme in the bacteriophage φ29 tail

Ye Xiang, Marc C. Morais, Daniel N. Cohen, Valorie D. Bowman, Dwight L. Anderson, Michael G. Rossmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


The small bacteriophage φ29 must penetrate the ≈250-Å thick external peptidoglycan cell wall and cell membrane of the Grampositive Bacillus subtilis, before ejecting its dsDNA genome through its tail into the bacterial cytoplasm. The tail of bacteriophage φ29 is noncontractile and ≈380 Å long. A 1.8-Å resolution crystal structure of gene product 13 (gp13) shows that this tail protein has spatially well separated N- and C-terminal domains, whose structures resemble lysozyme-like enzymes and metalloendopeptidases, respectively. CryoEM reconstructions of the WT bacteriophage and mutant bacteriophages missing some or most of gp13 shows that this enzyme is located at the distal end of the φ29 tail knob. This finding suggests that gp13 functions as a tail-associated, peptidoglycan-degrading enzyme able to cleave both the polysaccharide backbone and peptide cross-links of the peptidoglycan cell wall. Comparisons of the gp13- mutants with the ≈29 mature and emptied phage structures suggest the sequence of events that occur during the penetration of the tail through the peptidoglycan layer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9552-9557
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number28
StatePublished - Jul 15 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Hydrolase
  • Infection
  • Structure
  • Zinc ion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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