Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters
During the maturation step, the retroviral capsid proteins (CAs) assemble into polymorphic capsids. Their acute curvature is largely determined by 12 pentamers inserted into the hexameric lattice. However, how the CA switches its conformation to control assembly curvature remains unclear. We report the high-resolution structural model of the Rous sarcoma virus (RSV) CA T = 1 capsid, established by molecular dynamics simulations combining solid-state NMR and prior cryoelectron tomography restraints. Comparing this with our previous model of the RSV CA tubular assembly, we identify the key residues for dictating the incorporation of acute curvatures. These residues undergo large torsion angle changes, resulting in a 34° rotation of the C-terminal domain relative to its N-terminal domain around the flexible interdomain linker, without substantial changes of either the conformation of individual domains or the assembly contact interfaces. This knowledge provides new insights to help decipher the mechanism of the retroviral capsid assembly.