Structural analysis of the human respiratory syncytial virus phosphoprotein: characterization of an alpha-helical domain involved in oligomerization.
The RNA-dependent RNA polymerase complex of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is composed of the large polymerase (L), the phosphoprotein (P), the nucleocapsid protein (N) and the co-factors M2-1 and M2-2. The P protein plays a central role within the replicase-transcriptase machinery, forming homo-oligomers and complexes with N and L. In order to study P-P and N-P complexes, and the role of P phosphorylation in these interactions, the human RSV P and N proteins were expressed in E. coli as His-tagged or GST-fusion proteins. The non-phosphorylated status of recombinant P protein was established by mass spectrometry. GST-P and GST-N fusion proteins were able to interact with RSV proteins extracted from infected cells in a GST pull-down assay. When co-expressed in bacteria, GST-P and His-P were co-purified by glutathione-Sepharose affinity, showing that the RSV P protein can form oligomers within bacteria. This result was confirmed by chemical cross-linking experiments and gel filtration studies. The P oligomerization domain was investigated by a GST pull-down assay using a series of P deletion constructs. This domain was mapped to a small region situated in the central part of P (aa 120-150), which localized in a computer-predicted coiled-coil domain. When co-expressed in bacteria, RSV N and P proteins formed a soluble complex that prevented non-specific binding of N to bacterial RNA. Therefore, RSV P protein phosphorylation is not required for the formation of P-P and N-P complexes, and P controls the RNA binding activity of N.