Electrostatics and the assembly of an RNA virus

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Electrostatic interactions play a central role in the assembly of single-stranded RNA viruses. Under physiological conditions of salinity and acidity, virus capsid assembly requires the presence of genomic material that is oppositely charged to the core proteins. In this paper we apply basic polymer physics and statistical mechanics methods to the self-assembly of a synthetic virus encapsulating generic polyelectrolyte molecules. We find that (i) the mean concentration of the encapsidated polyelectrolyte material depends on the surface charge density, the radius of the capsid, and the linear charge density of the polymer but neither on the salt concentration nor the Kuhn length, and (ii) the total charge of the capsid interior is equal but opposite to that of the empty capsid, a form of charge reversal. Unlike natural viruses, synthetic viruses are predicted not to be under an osmotic swelling pressure. The design condition that self-assembly only produces filled capsids is shown to coincide with the condition that the capsid surface charge exceeds the desorption threshold of polymer surface adsorption. We compare our results with studies on the self-assembly of both synthetic and natural viruses
Original languageEnglish
Article number61928
Pages (from-to)61928-1
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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