American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science Advances, 16(6), p. eaaz1639, 2020
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Many viruses use their genome as template for self-assembly into an infectious particle. However, this reaction remains elusive because of the transient nature of intermediate structures. To elucidate this process, optical tweezers and acoustic force spectroscopy are used to follow viral assembly in real time. Using Simian virus 40 (SV40) virus-like particles as model system, we reveal a multistep assembly mechanism. Initially, binding of VP1 pentamers to DNA leads to a significantly decreased persistence length. Moreover, the pentamers seem able to stabilize DNA loops. Next, formation of interpentamer interactions results in intermediate structures with reduced contour length. These structures stabilize into objects that permanently decrease the contour length to a degree consistent with DNA compaction in wild-type SV40. These data indicate that a multistep mechanism leads to fully assembled cross-linked SV40 particles. SV40 is studied as drug delivery system. Our insights can help optimize packaging of therapeutic agents in these particles.