Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) capsids were found to assemble spontaneously in a cell-free system consisting of extracts prepared from insect cells that had been infected with recombinant baculoviruses coding for HSV-1 capsid proteins. The capsids formed in this system resembled native HSV-1 capsids in morphology as judged by electron microscopy, in sedimentation rate on sucrose density gradients, in protein composition, and in their ability to react with antibodies specific for the HSV-1 major capsid protein, VP5. Optimal capsid assembly required the presence of extracts containing capsid proteins VP5, VP19, VP23, VP22a, and the maturational protease (product of the UL26 gene). Assembly was more efficient at 27 degrees C than at 4 degrees C. The availability of a cell-free assay for HSV-1 capsid formation will be of help in identifying the morphogenetic steps that occur during capsid assembly in vivo and in evaluating candidate antiherpes therapeutics directed at capsid assembly
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