Amino acids at the exposed C-terminus of the S coat protein of cowpea mosaic virus play different roles in particle formation and viral systemic movement

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The icosahedral capsid of Cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) is formed by 60 copiesof the Large (L) and Small (S) coat protein subunits. The 24- amino acid C-terminal peptide of the S coat protein can undergo proteolytic cleavage without affecting particle stability or infectivity. Mutagenic studies have shown that this sequence is involved in particle assembly, virus movement, RNA encapsidation and suppression of gene silencing. However, it is unclear how these processes are related, and which part(s) of the sequence are involved in each process.  Here, we have analysed the effect of mutations in the C-terminal region of the S protein on the assembly of empty virus-like particles and on the systemic movement of infectious virus.  The results confirmed the importance of positively-charged amino acids adjacent to the cleavage site for particle assembly and revealed that the C-terminal 11 amino acids are important for efficient systemic movement of the virus.