Unique structures in a tumor herpesvirus revealed by cryo-electron tomography and microscopy

Wei Dai, Qingmei Jia, Eric Bortz, Sanket Shah, Jun Liu, Ivo Atanasov, Xudong Li, Kenneth A. Taylor, Ren Sun, Z. Hong Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Gammaherpesviruses, including the human pathogens Epstein-Barr virus and Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, are causative agents of lymphomas and other malignancies. The structural characterization of these viruses has been limited due to difficulties in obtaining adequate amount of virion particles. Here we report the first three-dimensional structural characterization of a whole gammaherpesvirus virion by an emerging integrated approach of cryo-electron tomography combined with single-particle cryo-electron microscopy, using murine gammaherpesvirus-68 (MHV-68) as a model system. We found that the MHV-68 virion consists of distinctive envelope and tegument compartments, and a highly conserved nucleocapsid. Two layers of tegument are identified: an inner tegument layer tethered to the underlying capsid and an outer, flexible tegument layer conforming to the overlying, pleomorphic envelope, consistent with the sequential viral tegumentation process inside host cells. Surprisingly, comparison of the MHV-68 virion and capsid reconstructions shows that the interactions between the capsid and inner tegument proteins are completely different from those observed in alpha and betaherpesviruses. These observations support the notion that the inner layer tegument across different subfamilies of herpesviruses has evolved significantly to confer specific characteristics related to viral-host interactions, in contrast to a highly conserved capsid for genome encapsidation and protection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)428-438
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Structural Biology


  • Cryo-electron microscopy
  • Cryo-electron tomography
  • Murine gammaherpesvirus-68
  • Tegument
  • Tumor herpesvirus

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