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A Balanced Ratio of Proteins from Gene G and Frameshift-Extended Gene GT Is Required for Phage Lambda Tail Assembly

Xu, Jun, Hendrix, Roger W., Duda, Robert L.
Journal of Molecular Biology 2013 v.425 pp. 3476-3487
Caudovirales, Retroviridae, bacteriophages, genes, mutation, open reading frames, plasmids, protein synthesis, proteins, sequence homology
In bacteriophage λ, the overlapping open reading frames G and T are expressed by a programmed translational frameshift similar to that of the gag-pol genes of many retroviruses to produce the proteins gpG and gpGT. An analogous frameshift is widely conserved among other dsDNA tailed phages in their corresponding “G” and “GT” tail genes even in the absence of detectable sequence homology. The longer protein gpGT is known to be essential for tail assembly, but the requirement for the shorter gpG remained unclear because mutations in gene G affect both proteins. A plasmid system that can direct the efficient synthesis of tails was created and used to show that gpG and gpGT are both essential for correct tail assembly. Phage complementation assays under conditions where levels of plasmid-expressed gpG or gpGT could be altered independently revealed that the correct molar ratio of these two related proteins, normally determined by the efficiency of the frameshift, is also crucial for efficient assembly of functional tails. Finally, the physical connection between the G and T domains of gpGT, a consequence of the frameshift mechanism of protein expression, appears to be important for efficient tail assembly.