Bonnie Berger


On the Structure of the Scaffolding Core of Bacteriophage T4 and its Role in Head-Length Determination

Bonnie Berger and Peter W. Shor


The scaffolding core in bacteriophages is a temporary structure that plays a major role in determining the shape of the protein shell that encapsulates the viral DNA. In the currently accepted structure for the scaffolding core in bacteriophage T4, there is a symmetry mismatch between the protein shell, which has fivefold symmetry, and the scaffolding core, which is believed to consist of six helical chains. Alternate structures for the scaffolding core in T4 are investigated. Starting with the hypothesis that the shell and a 10-helix core would have matching symmetry, a Vernier mechanism is proposed that explains the previously unexplained behavior of the length determination process in giant head mutants of T4. Other possible Vernier mechanisms for core structures containing six and eight helices are also explored.