We describe herein the characterization of p39, the product of the A4L gene of vaccinia virus. By immunolabelling of thawed cryosections from infected HeLa cells, we show that this protein is initially located in the central region, or viroplasm, of the viral factories, as well as in the immature virions, with very small amounts of labelling observed on the surrounding membranes. The localization of p39 changes dramatically during the transition of the immature virion to the intracellular mature virus (IMV), coincident with the appearance of the core structure in the center of the IMV, with p39 located between this core and the surrounding membranes. Complementary biochemical data, such as partitioning into the Triton X-114 detergent phase and stripping of the viral membranes with Nonidet P-40 and dithiothreitol, suggest that p39 is associated with the innermost of the two membranes surrounding the core. Sodium carbonate treatment also indicates that p39 is associated with membranes, even at the early stages of viral assembly. However, following in vitro translation of p39 in the presence of microsomal membranes, we failed to detect any association of the independently expressed protein with membranes. We also failed to detect any posttranslational acylation of p39 with myristate or palmitate, suggesting that p39 does not achieve its membrane association through lipid anchors. Therefore, p39 is most likely membrane associated through an interaction with an integral membrane protein(s) present in the innermost of the two membranes surrounding the IMV. These data, together with our recent data showing that p39 colocalizes with the spike-like protrusions on the IMV core (N. Roos, M. Cyrklaff, S. Cudmore, R. Blasco, J. Krijnse-Locker, and G. Griffiths, EMBO J. 15:2343-2355, 1996), suggest that p39 may form part of this spike and that it possibly functions as a matrix-like linker protein between the core and the innermost of the two membranes surrounding the IMV
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