JOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, Mar. 2005, p. 3822–3830
Copyright © 2005, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.
Vol. 79, No. 6
Complementarity in the Supramolecular Design of Arenaviruses and
Retroviruses Revealed by Electron Cryomicroscopy and
Benjamin W. Neuman,1* Brian D. Adair,2John W. Burns,3Ronald A. Milligan,2
Michael J. Buchmeier,1and Mark Yeager2,4
Departments of Neuropharmacology1and Cell Biology,2The Scripps Research Institute, and Division of Cardiovascular
Diseases, Scripps Clinic,4La Jolla, and Applied Biosystems, Foster City,3California
Received 17 June 2004/Accepted 26 October 2004
Arenaviruses are rodent-borne agents of diseases, including potentially lethal human hemorrhagic fevers.
These enveloped viruses encapsidate a bisegmented ambisense single-stranded RNA genome that can be
packaged in variable copy number. Electron cryomicroscopy and image analysis of New World Pichinde and
Tacaribe arenaviruses and Old World lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus revealed pleomorphic enveloped
particles ranging in diameter from ?400 to ?2,000 Å. The surface spikes were spaced ?100 Å apart and
extended ?90 Å from the maximum phospholipid headgroup density of the outer bilayer leaflet. Distinctive
stalk and head regions extended radially ?30 and ?60 Å from the outer bilayer leaflet, respectively. Two
interior layers of density apposed to the inner leaflet of the viral lipid bilayer were assigned as protein Z and
nucleoprotein (NP) molecules on the basis of their appearance, spacing, and projected volume. Analysis of en
face views of virions lacking the GP-C spikes showed reflections consistent with paracrystalline packing of the
NP molecules in a lattice with edges of ?57 and ?74 Å. The structural proteins of retroviruses and arenavi-
ruses assemble with similar radial density distributions, using common cellular components.
Arenaviruses are spread from a variety of rodent hosts, and
there are case reports on humans that they result in teratogen-
esis or hemorrhagic fever. These enveloped viruses encapsi-
date a bisegmented ambisense single-stranded RNA genome
that can be packaged in variable copy number. Although
arenaviruses package ribosomes, there is no requirement for
de novo translation within the mature virion (31). The virion
contains four structural proteins: (i) the large cleaved trans-
membrane glycoprotein (GP), which is similar in organization
to type I membrane fusion proteins (19); (ii) a budding factor
Z, which contains a metal-binding RING finger domain and
regulates viral transcription and translation; (iii) the RNA-
binding nucleoprotein (NP), which is required for viral RNA
polymerase activity; and (iv) a small, predominantly hydropho-
bic structural protein, organized similarly to the alphavirus 6K
protein, that serves as a cleaved signal sequence for GP and is
incorporated in the virion (12, 14, 16). In addition, the viral
replicase protein is incorporated at a low copy number.
Electron cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM) has revealed that pleo-
morphic enveloped viruses have a roughly spherical appear-
ance, studded with projections that correspond to oligomers of
the attachment and fusion proteins. Examples include influ-
enza virus (1, 17, 41); several retroviruses, such as foamy virus
(46), human immunodeficiency virus (3, 18, 22, 36, 47), murine
leukemia virus (48), and Rous sarcoma virus (28, 51); La
Crosse virus (44, 45); Sendai virus (24); and transmissible gas-
troenteritis coronavirus (39).
The most recent models for the structural organization of
arenaviruses date from electron microscopy studies in 1984 by
Dubois-Dalcq et al. (11) and in 1987 by Young (49). To extend
their analyses, we used cryo-EM and image analysis to examine
three arenavirus strains that encompass the Old World and
New World groups.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Virus growth and preparation. Baby hamster kidney (BHK) cells were main-
tained in Dulbecco’s minimum essential medium supplemented with 8% fetal
bovine serum, 2 mM L-glutamine, and antibiotics. The Pichinde-AN3739 (Pic),
Tacaribe-TRVL 11573 (Tac), and lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus-Arm4
(LCM) strains were propagated in 850-cm2roller bottles at 37°C with 5% CO2.
Semiconfluent BHK cells were inoculated at a low multiplicity of infection.
Virus-containing cell culture medium was collected 48 h after inoculation, and
virions were isolated by polyethylene glycol precipitation and Renografin density
gradient centrifugation (5). Protein concentrations were determined by the
method of Bradford (2) with bovine serum albumin as the standard. For radio-
labeled virus, Tran35S-label (ICN, Costa Mesa, Calif.) was added at 24 h postin-
fection to a final concentration of 15 ?Ci/ml. The virus titer was determined by
plaque assay on Vero-E6 cells (10). Samples of Pic, Tac, and LCM possessed
infectious titers in excess of 109PFU/mg of total protein.
Removal of GP-1 from intact virions. Purified35S-labeled or unlabeled LCM,
Pic, or Tac virions resuspended in TNE (10 mM Tris-HCl, 100 mM NaCl, 1 mM
EDTA [pH 7.4]) were pelleted at 4°C in an Airfuge centrifuge (Beckman In-
struments, Palo Alto, Calif.) for 13 min at 22 lb/in2(?100,000 ? g). The pellets
were resuspended in 1 M LiCl (pH 7.4) or 1 M NaCl (pH 5.0) and incubated for
1 h at 37°C. Control virus preparations were resuspended in TNE and incubated
in parallel with the high-salt preparations. The virus samples were then loaded
onto continuous 5 to 50% sucrose density gradients, and ultracentrifugation was
performed in an SW 50.1 rotor for 18 h at 40,000 rpm. Gradients were fraction-
ated by bottom puncture, and 300-?l fractions were collected. Gradient profiles
were established by counting the radioactivity in aliquots of each fraction in
scintillation fluid with a Beckman LS 1801 liquid scintillation counter. The
protein composition of each fraction was determined by using sodium dodecyl
sulfate–10% polyacrylamide reducing gels (5, 30).
Cryo-EM and image analysis. Cryo-EM of purified LCM, Tac, or Pic at a
concentration of ?1 mg/ml in TNE was performed as described previously (34).
* Corresponding author. Mailing address: Department of Neuro-
pharmacology, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 N. Torrey Pines
Rd., La Jolla, CA 92037. Phone: (858) 784-7162. Fax: (858) 784-7369.
† This is TSRI manuscript 16374-NP.
Micrographs of each preparation displaying minimal drift and astigmatism were
digitized by using a Zeiss SCAI scanner with Phodis software. Images were
scanned at 7 ?m per pixel and twofold pixel averaging was applied, correspond-
ing to 4 Å per pixel at the level of the specimen. The histogram for a represen-
tative portion of the image containing vitreous ice and protein was normalized by
adjustment of the densitometer settings until the mean image intensity was
centered as nearly as possible at a gray value of 127 on a scale of 0 to 255.
Image processing was performed with the EMAN software suite (32). Images
between ?1.2 and ?3.1 ?m under focus were selected for single particle analysis.
A Gaussian low-pass filter was used to truncate frequencies beyond the first node
of the contrast transfer function, which ranged from 18 to 26 Å?1for individual
images, so that there were no phase reversals of the amplitudes. Side views were
obtained by masking the edges of virion images in order to examine the distri-
bution of density adjacent to the lipid bilayer. En face projections were obtained
by masking the central region of each projected virion, approximately the area
covered by a concentric circle with half of the virion radius. (Such images
represent the superposition of densities on the near and far sides of the virions,
as well as the internal contents.) Boxed images included approximately 4,000 side
and 2,500 en face views of Pic, 7,500 side and 5,000 en face views of Tac, and
10,000 side and 6,500 en face views of LCM. Control images of vitreous ice or
copurified empty vesicles were processed in parallel with the arenavirus images
where stated. The optical density histograms for each boxed image were nor-
malized to a common mean and standard deviation (SD) to correct for any
remaining variations in optical density between individual boxed images.
The x,y origin and rotational orientation of side and en face view boxed images
were aligned by 10 rounds of centering and averaging with the EMAN routine
Cenalignint. The routine Startnrclasses was then used to derive an initial set of
class averages by factor analysis, and k-means grouping was used to classify the
images into groups. Each group contained ?100 particles for the side views and
?500 particles for the en face views. The images in these groups were then
averaged to produce the initial class averages, which were used as the first
reference set for iterative, reference-based particle classification and averaging.
In this process the routine Classesbymra assigned individual particle images to a
class via cross-correlation with each of the references. For each determination of
an average, boxed images that deviated by 1 SD or more from the mean were
excluded from the average for that particular round only. Approximately 50 to
70% of the aligned input images in a group were averaged to produce a final class
Virion size was estimated by averaging the maximum and minimum diameters
of noncircular particles. The most circular particles were selected for determi-
nation of one-dimensional radial density profiles. Images were centered as be-
fore with Cenalignint and then rotationally averaged by using the Robem suite
from Timothy S. Baker’s laboratory (http://bilbo.bio.purdue.edu/?workshop/hel-
p_robem/). The characteristic density minimum in the center of the bilayer was
used as a fiducial mark for alignment and averaging of the radial density profiles
from particles with various diameters. Statistical operations were performed with
Instat 3.0a (Graphpad). Means and SDs are reported for measurements through-
Arenaviruses are enveloped. Cryo-EM revealed that Pic,
Tac, and LCM are roughly spherical virions in which the lipid
bilayer is studded with the viral glycoprotein spikes (Fig. 1).
The center-to-center distance between the maximum phospho-
lipid headgroup density of the inner and outer bilayer leaflets
of virions and copurified smooth-walled vesicles was about 35
Å. This value was reasonable given that the maximal densities
in most common cellular lipid bilayers are separated by ?36 to
40 Å (35). The bilayer density was used as a fiducial mark
throughout these studies. The closeness of observed and ex-
pected sizes was taken as an indication that densities visible in
these images could be measured to within a few angstroms.
Arenaviruses have a large variation in diameter. The diam-
eters of all Pic, Tac, or LCM virions ranged from 400 to 2,000
Å (Fig. 2G). The mean virion diameters (? SD) were 840 ?
200 Å for Pic (n ? 407), 920 ? 200 Å for Tac (n ? 308), and
860 ? 210 Å for LCM (n ? 337). Interestingly, the diameter
histograms displayed at least four peaks for LCM separated by
130 ? 20 Å (n ? 18), with diameters measuring 520 ? 50, 650
? 20, 780 ? 10, and 900 ? 30 Å (n ? 3 each). This pattern was
less pronounced for the Pic and Tac particles. The appearance
and spacing of the peaks were not affected when the LCM
sample size was increased to ?750 virions. Most virions clus-
tered around the 780- and 900-Å diameters. The mean virion
diameters were slightly smaller than those reported for arena-
viruses grown in cell culture and in infected tissue, as observed
by thin-section electron microscopy, negative-stain transmis-
sion electron microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy
FIG. 1. Electron cryomicroscopy of arenaviruses. Images of native frozen-hydrated Pic (A), Tac (B), and LCM (C) virions are shown. Bar, 500 Å.
VOL. 79, 2005SUPRAMOLECULAR DESIGN OF ARENAVIRUSES BY CRYO-EM 3823
(reviewed in reference 26). Arenaviruses do not display the
prominent seams observed in retroviral capsids (18).
GP-1 and GP-2 associate by electrostatic interactions. The
glycoprotein spike (GP-C) consists of a peripheral domain
(GP-1) and an integral membrane protein domain (GP-2). To
examine the role of electrostatic interactions in the association
of GP-1 and GP-2, purified, radiolabeled virions were incu-
bated in high-ionic-strength buffers (9, 10). Sodium dodecyl
sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of sucrose gradient
fractions showed that GP-1 was released from Pic, Tac, and
LCM virions following incubation in 1 M LiCl at neutral pH or
in 1 M NaCl at pH 5.0 for 1 h at 37°C (data not shown).
FIG. 2. Comparison of arenavirus morphology and size distribution. Electron micrographs of frozen-hydrated virions of Pic (A and F), Tac (B),
LCM (C), 1 M LiCl-treated LCM (D), and 1 M NaCl- and pH 5.0-treated LCM (E) are shown. The images in panels A to E were recorded at
?1.5 to ?1.9 ?m under focus to emphasize the two leaflets of the lipid bilayer. The image in panel F was recorded at ?3.0 ?m under focus to
emphasize the surface spikes. The distribution of native Pic, Tac, and LCM virion diameters is shown in panel G. Histograms depict the average
number of virions per 4-Å-diameter increment, averaged within a 48-Å sliding window. Bar, 200 Å.
3824 NEUMAN ET AL. J. VIROL.
Although Tac GP-1 and GP-2 displayed the same electro-
phoretic mobility, they could be distinguished by Western im-
munoblot analysis (25). Consistent with these results, high-salt-
and low-pH-treated LCM virions lacked visible surface projec-
tions, confirming that GP-1 accounts for the ectodomain of
GP-C (Fig. 2).
Layers of density are closely apposed to the inner bilayer
leaflet. Rotationally averaged radial density profiles of the
most circular virions displayed a thin, concentric layer of den-
sity (designated inner track 1 [IT-1]) that was closely adherent
to the inner bilayer leaflet (Fig. 3). The maximum density of
IT-1 was located 46 ? 4 Å (Pic), 39 ? 4 Å (Tac), or 43 ? 5 Å
(LCM) (n ? 12 for each) radially inward from the maximum
phospholipid headgroup density of the inner bilayer leaflet.
Virions also displayed a second concentric inner track (IT-2)
with a maximum density located 77 ? 6 Å (Pic), 105 ? 8 Å
(Tac), or 78 ? 3 Å (LCM) (n ? 12 for each) radially inward
from the maximum headgroup density of the inner leaflet.
LCM and Pic virions were indistinguishable, while Tacaribe
virions were recognizable by the increased distance separating
IT-1 from IT-2. The IT-2 layer was formed by ?50-Å globular
densities. Occasional threads of density appeared to connect
the IT-2 density and GP domains (Fig. 4A and C), but these
features were not uniformly seen. Class averages indicated that
no features were reproducibly located interior to IT-2.
Rotationally averaged profiles of spherical virions ranging in
diameter from 400 to 2,000 Å showed that the locations of IT-1
and IT-2 were independent of virion diameter for Pic and
LCM. Tac virions smaller than 560 Å were rare, but inner
features of the smallest Tac virions resembled the tracks for
larger diameter virions. Radial density profiles of empty vesi-
cles did not display any interior densities, thus confirming that
the observed features were not created by defocus artifacts of
The large GP-C domains of Pic, Tac, and LCM are of com-
parable size. For those particles in which the GP-C spikes were
visible, the centers of the GP-C head domains were spaced 100
? 7 Å (n ? 33) apart. With this spacing, virions ranging from
400 to 2,000 Å would be expected to contain ?50 to 1,400
GP-C oligomers apiece. The spikes of Pic, Tac, and LCM
extended radially from the maximum phospholipid headgroup
density of the outer bilayer leaflet 90 ? 7, 90 ? 8, and 91 ? 8
Å (n ? 100), respectively. GP-C ectodomain sizes did not differ
significantly by the two-tailed Mann-Whitney test.
Two-dimensional averages of side views revealed two types
of images, one with uniform GP-C density and a second with
split density (Fig. 4). The split-density GP-C head and stalk
regions of LCM class averages measured 78 ? 7 by 60 ? 2 and
43 ? 5 by 33 ? 2 Å (width parallel to the bilayer by height
perpendicular from the bilayer), respectively. The correspond-
ing uniform-density head and stalk regions measured 67 ? 4 by
60 ? 4 and 30 ? 6 by 34 ? 3 Å, respectively (n ? 10 each).
These two views most likely represented projections of the
FIG. 3. Structural features of Pic, Tac, and LCM arenaviruses re-
vealed by rotationally averaged radial density profiles. Twelve well-
centered, circular virion projections displaying bilayer leaflets of ap-
proximately even intensity were aligned and averaged to produce each
curve. The schematic interpretation identifies the peaks in the radial
density plots with the viral glycoprotein oligomers (GP-C), the lipid
bilayer (LB), inner track 1 (IT-1), and inner track 2 (IT-2).
FIG. 4. Surface features as well as inner densities (IT-1, IT-2) re-
vealed by analysis of side views. Class averages of side views reveal the
lipid bilayer (LB) and GP-C ectodomain as well as inner densities. A
single globular density (D, bottom) or double-lobed projection (D,
top) was visible outside the membrane of Pic (A), Tac (B), and LCM
(C) viruses. Class averages had double-lobed (D, top) or single-lobed
(D, bottom) LCM GP-C projections. Class averages constructed from
larger fields of view revealed two concentric layers of density, desig-
nated IT-1 and IT-2, for Pic, Tac, and LCM (E, F, and G, respectively)
that were closely apposed to the inner bilayer leaflet. Beneath the
GP-C density were thin threads of density that connected the IT-1 and
IT-2 layers. Bars, 50 Å. The images were masked so as to concentrate
on two different regions: the GP-C ectodomain (A, B, and C) and the
inner track densities (IT-1 and IT-2) at lower radii (E, F, and G).
Boxes A to D have been resized relative to E to G to highlight
VOL. 79, 2005 SUPRAMOLECULAR DESIGN OF ARENAVIRUSES BY CRYO-EM3825
GP-C complex rotated about an axis perpendicular to the
membrane plane. The split-density pattern and corresponding
difference in the observed width of GP-C suggested C2 sym-
metry, but a trimeric GP stoichiometry could not be ruled out.
It is also notable that split- and uniform-density images were
also observed for averages of side views of the ectodomain of
the Escherichia coli F1F0ATP synthase, which has pseudohex-
americ symmetry (6, 21).
The estimated volume of two stacked elliptic cylinders cor-
responding to the head and stalk of GP-C was 2.2 ? 105to 3.5
? 105Å3. The boundary of the ectodomain is known from
sequencing of the proteolysis-resistant C-terminal fragment of
GP-C (4). Using a partial specific volume of 0.73 cm3/g (23),
the expected volume of a monomeric, nonglycosylated GP-C
ectodomain is ?5.9 ? 104Å3. The estimated volume of the
GP-C ectodomain is therefore consistent with four to six non-
glycosylated GP-C monomers (Table 1).
Paracrystalline packing of densities in en face views. The
observed en face density should arise from the average of the
near and far sides of the envelope as well as the interior
density. We reasoned that if the density within the virion core
was randomly distributed, then analysis of en face views could
reveal information on the packing of proteins proximal to the
envelope. Images of LCM, Pic, Tac, centers of empty copuri-
fied vesicles, or regions of background vitreous ice were
aligned and averaged separately by using a reference-free
method. The arenavirus images showed a grid-like arrange-
ment of ?50-Å punctate densities, while no regularly occurring
features were visible in vesicle and ice control class averages.
Computed diffraction patterns of the arenavirus averages dis-
played reflections not seen in the transform of the background
ice average (data not shown). This suggested that the GP-C
and/or the underlying NP molecules were packed in a paracrys-
talline fashion. En face images of single virions (Fig. 5A to D,
insets) showed similar punctate densities, and computed dif-
fraction patterns showed discrete sampling (Fig. 5A to D). To
further delineate this apparent lattice, diffraction patterns were
computed for groups of 3,000 to 10,000 images of Pic, Tac,
LCM, and LiCl-treated LCM that had been aligned to a ref-
erence-free class average (Fig. 5E to H). Reflections that cor-
responded to a lattice with a ? 74 ? 5 Å, b ? 57 ? 4 Å, and
? ? 76 ? 3° were consistently observed (Fig. 5I). Image anal-
ysis of LiCl-treated or acid- and NaCl-treated LCM virions
yielded an identical lattice (Fig. 5D and H). Since these virions
lack GP-C spikes, the lattice in these virions must arise from
one of the other structural proteins, such as Z or NP. The sizes
of the roughly circular densities in the averaged images ranged
from 48 to 56 Å, which is comparable to the IT-2 densities in
side views of Pic, Tac, and LCM (Fig. 4A, C, E, F, and G).
The IT-2 density is assigned to NP. Volume estimations for
ellipsoids, using the side (4.4 ? 104to 9.2 ? 104Å3[Fig. 4A and
C]) or en face (5.0 ? 104to 9.7 ? 104Å3[Fig. 5]) dimensions
of the IT-2 and en face densities, were comparable to the
calculated volume of NP (7.6 ? 104Å3), using a protein partial
specific volume of 0.73 cm3/g (Table 1). The observed size and
shape of the IT-2 and en face densities resembled the 40- to
50-Å-diameter Pic RNP globules spaced 60 Å apart (50) or 30-
to 40-Å beads arranged 40 to 50 Å apart observed for both Tac
and Tamiami (20) imaged by negative-stain transmission EM
on disrupted virions. The maximal center-to-center separations
in the en face grid (74 ? 5 Å [Fig. 5I]) and the mean of the
largest one-third of the IT-2 center-to-center measurements
(75 ? 3 Å [n ? 25 of 74 total]) were similar. The predicted
volumes of one IT-2 or en face density were comparable to that
calculated for one NP molecule. Consequently, we infer that
each IT-2 and en face density represents one copy of NP.
The IT-1 density is assigned to protein Z. Side views showed
that the IT-1 densities were much smaller than the IT-2 den-
sities, with an average height of 27 ? 2 Å (n ? 18), width of 43
? 5 Å (n ? 30), and center-to-center spacing of 90 ? 7 Å (n
? 33). Split or uniform IT-1 densities were located beneath
each GP-C protrusion in class averages (Fig. 4A to C and data
not shown). Candidates for the IT-1 density include the cyto-
plasmic tail of GP-2 and Z or contributions of both. Initial
characterization of the topology of the hydrophobic GP-C-
signal protein in the endoplasmic reticulum (13) appears to
exclude the signal protein from consideration for IT-1. The
posttransmembrane carboxyl-terminal tail of GP-2 is relatively
short, between 42 and 46 amino acid residues. Thus, the main
contribution to the IT-1 density is likely to be the remaining
TABLE 1. Feature identification
Feature or protein
Feature dimensions (A ˚) Vol (104A3)b
spacing (A ˚)c
Inner track 1
Inner track 2
En face grid
RNP by EMd
38–48 by 25–29
43–57 by 45–54
42–48 by 54–62
50 by 50
48.6 17.6 (3 copies), 23.5 (4 copies)
71–85 by 63–71 by 56–64
38–48 by 24–36 by 31–37
aMolecular masses derived from published Pic amino acid sequences.
bSmallest and largest ellipsoids that could be created from a combination of the possible radii.
cBased on the upper-third center-to-center spacing values from class averages.
dPichinde NP size based on reference 50.
eEctodomain boundary based on reference 4.
fModeled as stacked elliptic cylinders for volume calculations.
3826NEUMAN ET AL. J. VIROL.
high-copy structural protein, Z. The Z protein contains no
canonical hydrophobic transmembrane regions but has been
shown to be tightly associated with membranes (43) and the
virion core (40) and is also myristoylated. These features sup-
port a membrane-proximal location of Z (Fig. 3). The central
density of IT-1 was a reasonable volume match for two copies
of Z, although it was difficult to measure the dimensions of
IT-1 and the poorly resolved connecting densities.
In this study we used electron cryomicroscopy and image
analysis to examine the supramolecular design of the Pic, Tac,
and LCM arenaviruses. Frozen, vitrified arenavirus virions
were pleomorphic and varied widely in diameter (400 to 2,000
Å). Virions displayed prominent GP-C spikes, which were re-
moved by treatment with high-ionic-strength buffers. Two in-
terior layers of density apposed to the inner leaflet of the viral
lipid bilayer were assigned as proteins Z and NP on the basis
of their appearance, spacing, and projected volume. Analysis
of en face views of virions lacking the GP-C spikes showed
reflections consistent with paracrystalline packing of the NP
NP packing may regulate virion size. The fairly discrete
diameters observed for arenavirus particles (Fig. 2G) may be
related to the number of packaged NP molecules. The average
difference in diameter between adjacent size classes was ?130
Å, the average length of a side of the parallelogram occupied
by four adjacent NP molecules (148 by 114 Å in Fig. 4E).
Arenavirus size classes may be generated by the addition or
removal of a ring of units containing four NP molecules to
make each subsequent overrepresented virion diameter. The
average virions of the four main classes contain roughly 60,
120, 180, and 240 units of four NP molecules in the IT-2 grid.
Although it is clear that arenaviruses do not manifest icosahe-
dral symmetry, the two major size classes, which contain 44 to
FIG. 5. Paracrystalline lattice of NP revealed by analysis of en face images. Computed diffraction patterns of class averages (large images) were
constructed for en face views from Pic (A and E), Tac (B and F), LCM (C and G), and LiCl-treated LCM (D and H). Images were analyzed
individually (large images A to D), or raw images were aligned to class averages, Fourier transformed, and averaged in real space to produce
composite images (large images E to H). The dimensions of the paracrystalline lattice are shown in panel I.
VOL. 79, 2005 SUPRAMOLECULAR DESIGN OF ARENAVIRUSES BY CRYO-EM 3827
55% of all virions, possess the approximate number of units
expected for T ? 3 and T ? 4 icosahedral capsids, respectively.
We have been unable to routinely identify fivefold axes char-
acteristic of icosahedral symmetry in arenavirus virion images
and class averages (data not shown). Furthermore, arenavi-
ruses are far larger than known T ? 3 or T ? 4 icosahedral
virions. The nonicosahedral packing of NP molecules in the
arenaviruses appears to be analogous to the paracrystalline but
nonicosahedral packing of Gag molecules in retrovirus virions
Parallels to the design of other viruses. Arenavirus particles
display two concentric layers of protein beneath the lipid bi-
layer, the innermost of which contains punctate 50-Å densities
that we attribute to NP. Arenaviruses resemble enveloped ico-
sahedral and pleomorphic particles in the general arrangement
of inner and outer protein features. However, the supramo-
lecular design of arenaviruses differs from known virus archi-
tectures: alphaviruses, like flaviviruses, have an icosahedral
geometry with defined two-, three-, and fivefold axes, and ret-
roviruses have local paracrystalline symmetry with visible
seams located where paracrystalline arrays abut. We have not
detected a spiral or helical arrangement of irregularly coiled
NP filaments, as observed after release of nucleocapsids from
a variety of pleomorphic viruses. Spiral nucleoproteins have
been described previously for released arenavirus nucleocap-
sids (11, 49). It is possible that IT-2 NP molecules reflect local
approaches of the spiral nucleocapsid to the membrane, al-
though the data presented here do not address NP packing
inside IT-2. The proposed concentric density distribution is
consistent with more recent cryo-EM analyses of influenza
virus virions (1, 17) and immature retrovirus particles (18, 47,
48) (Fig. 6). Our density assignments are consistent with the
reported L/NP/GP-1/GP-2/Z molar ratio of Lassa virus of ?1:
Parallels to the design of retroviruses. Arenaviruses and
retroviruses share assembly and budding mechanisms (Fig. 6).
The retroviral matrix (MA) domain of Gag and arenavirus Z
are essential budding factors. In addition, both proteins are
myristoylated (38). The arenavirus Z protein has multiple
functions. Z is a budding factor (37, 43) and a potent inhibitor
of arenavirus RNA synthesis (7, 8, 27). One recent study failed
to detect an interaction of Z with NP (27) by using immuno-
precipitation, which is implied in the images in Fig. 4. How-
ever, other studies have demonstrated an interaction between
Lassa virus NP and Z by immunoprecipitation and colocaliza-
tion (15) and between LCM NP and Z by cross-linking (40).
Both reside within ?30 Å of the inner surface of the mem-
brane (18, 47, 48). Gag cleavage products, the matrix proteins
of negative-stranded viruses, and arenavirus Z proteins contain
the late domains that bind adaptor components of the
coatomer assembly machinery and are essential for viral bud-
ding. The late domains of retroviruses often occur as either the
sequence P-P-X-Y or P-S/T-A-P (where X is any amino acid)
between MA and CA or as a Y-X-X-? (where ? is an amino
acid with a bulky hydrophobic side chain) sequence in the
domain following NC. Each allows the virus protein to bind a
different component of the host cell vacuolar protein sorting
pathway (33). The arenavirus Z protein contains either one or
two functional motifs of the P-P-X-Y and P-S/T-A-P type or, in
the case of Tac Z, a single Y-X-X-? motif (37, 43). It may be
significant that Tac NP is located ?30 Å distal from the mem-
brane relative to the New and Old World arenavirus counter-
parts Pic and LCM and that Tac presumably interacts with
different parts of the coatomer assembly pathway. Late do-
mains in Z are also required for budding but not for associa-
tion of Z with membranes or for the interaction of Z and NP
(15, 37, 43). Furthermore, Z proteins of LCM and Lassa vi-
ruses can substitute functionally for the Rous sarcoma virus
late domains (37). Thus, analogous virus designs are realized
differently: retroviral Gag proteins are processed in place dur-
ing maturation, while arenaviruses are assembled as mature
particles from discrete components.
FIG. 6. (A) Schematic representation of the arenavirus and murine leukemia virus organization (based on reference 48 used with permission
of the National Academy of Sciences). The murine leukemia virus Gag domains matrix (MA), P12, capsid (CA), and nucleocapsid (NC) are shown
assembled at the viral lipid bilayer (LB) on the left, while the arenavirus GP, Z, and NP proteins are depicted on the right. (B) Schematic
representation of clathrin-coated vesicle organization, showing the position of the “cargo” protein, adaptor protein complex (AP), and clathrin coat
(CLA). Bar, ?100 Å.
3828 NEUMAN ET AL. J. VIROL.
Parallels to vesicular transport. The primary function of a
virion is to enable transport of the virus genome between host
cells. In fulfilling this function, the arenaviruses possess a basic
structural similarity to the coatomer-coated vesicle assembly
(for a review see reference 29). Arenaviruses and coatomer-
coated transport vesicles are assembled at cellular membranes
from discrete components; arenaviruses form convex assem-
blies that bud outward from the plasma membrane, while
transport vesicles form concave assemblies that eventually bud
inward. Arenaviruses and other viruses that require late do-
mains for assembly utilize components of the coatomer assem-
bly complexes. GP oligomers are analogous to the coatomer-
transported cargo proteins (Fig. 6B), adaptor protein-binding
Z protein is analogous to the plate-like coatomer adaptor
proteins, and a paracrystalline net of NP is analogous to the
clathrin lattice in assembled vesicles (42). The respective car-
gos are carried at opposite ends of the complex. Thus, arena-
viruses, retroviruses, and cellular coatomer complexes appear
to utilize complementary processes for transport across mem-
We thank Colin Howard and Paul Young for access to their library
of transmission electron microscopy images of arenaviruses, Renaud
Burrer for helpful discussions, and Kelly Dryden for extensive techni-
This work was supported through NIH grants RO1 AI-39848 (to
M.J.B.), RO1 AI-50840 (to M.J.B.), and GM-066087 (to M.Y.).
B.W.N. and B.D.A. were supported by NIH training grants NS-41219
and AI-07354, respectively. During this work M.Y. was also supported
by a Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research from the Bur-
roughs Wellcome Fund.
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