Purified intact Sindbis virus nucleocapsids were treated at different pH values or with various concentrations of divalent cations, cation chelators, salt, or formamide. The resulting structures were examined by velocity sedimentation, electron microscopy, and protein-protein cross-linking. Changes in each of the test conditions led to alterations in the sedimentation profile of treated nucleocapsids. Appropriate concentrations of formamide or divalent cations generated beaded strandlike structures similar in morphology to those generated from adenovirus cores and nucleosomes. The capsid protein and RNA remained associated with each other at NaCl concentrations less than or equal to 1 M or after treatment of the structures with alkaline pH up to and including pH 10.7. Protein and RNA were dissociated by salt concentrations of greater than 1 M, suggesting that the arginine-rich, amino-terminal portion of the capsid protein is responsible for binding the RNA. Protein-protein cross-linking also indicated that the capsid proteins remained associated in small aggregates under some of the conditions that caused dissociation of the nucleocapsid and suggested the presence of more than one type of protein-protein interaction in the nucleocapsids. Collectively, these data suggest that, like histones and adenovirus core proteins, the Sindbis virus capsid protein serves to package segments of the genome into nucleoprotein beads which are capable of interacting with each other to form the nucleocapsid structure
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