Polyhedra, spindles, phage nucleus and pyramids: Structural biology of viral superstructures

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Viral infection causes comprehensive rearrangements of the cell that reflect as much host defense mechanisms as virus-induced structures assembled to facilitate infection. Regardless of their pro- or antiviral role, large intracellular structures are readily detectable by microscopy and often provide a signature characteristic of a specific viral infection. The structural features and localization of these assemblies have thus been commonly used for the diagnostic and classification of viruses since the early days of virology. More recently, characterization of viral superstructures using molecular and structural approaches have revealed very diverse organizations and roles, ranging from dynamic viral factories behaving like liquid organelles to ultra-stable crystals embedding and protecting virions. This chapter reviews the structures, functions and biotechnological applications of virus-induced superstructures with a focus on assemblies that have a regular organization, for which detailed structural descriptions are available. Examples span viruses infecting all domains of life including the assembly of virions into crystalline arrays in eukaryotic and bacterial viruses, nucleus-like compartments involved in the replication of large bacteriophages, and pyramid-like structures mediating the egress of archaeal viruses. Among these superstructures, high-resolution structures are available for crystalline objects produced by insect viruses: viral polyhedra which function as the infectious form of occluded viruses, and spindles which are potent virulence factors of entomopoxviruses. In turn, some of these highly symmetrical objects have been used to develop and validate advanced structural approaches, pushing the boundary of structural biology.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Virus Research
EditorsFélix A. Rey
PublisherAcademic Press
Number of pages61
ISBN (Print)9780128184561
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019

Publication series

NameAdvances in Virus Research
ISSN (Print)0065-3527
ISSN (Electronic)1557-8399


  • Electron tomography
  • Inclusion bodies
  • Microcrystallography
  • Occlusion bodies
  • Phage nucleus
  • Polyhedra
  • Pyramids
  • Spindles
  • XFEL

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