The matrix (M) protein of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) appears to function as a bridge between the ribonucleocapsid (RNP) core and the envelope in assembly of the virion. Two such properties would necessitate at least one site for interaction with the nucleocapsid and one with the envelope. In this study M protein was found to mediate the in vitro binding to RNP cores of phospholipid vesicles, representing membrane structures. The M protein could bind initially to either the vesicles or the RNP cores to promote RNP-vesicle association. A trypsin-resistant fragment (MT) of M protein, missing the initial 43 amino acids from its amino terminus, reconstituted with acidic phospholipid vesicles with the same binding efficiency as did whole M protein, suggesting that the carboxy-terminal 81% retained those regions of the M protein which interact with a lipid bilayer. The MT protein, however, was considerably less efficient than intact M protein as an inhibitor of in vitro virus transcription; almost 2.5-fold more MT protein than intact M protein was required for 50% inhibition of VSV transcription, indicating that a site for interaction with the RNP core may have been lost. A monoclonal antibody which is able to reverse the in vitro inhibition of transcription by M protein did not react by immunoblotting with MT protein. Partial tryptic digests of the M protein probed with this monoclonal antibody indicated that epitope 1 lies between amino acid residues 18 and 43. This region appears to be a site that promotes interaction of the M protein with the RNP core of VSV. Monoclonal antibodies to epitopes 2 and 3, which exhibit some overlap in binding to M protein but do not reverse transcription inhibition, were mapped by cleavage with N-chlorosuccinimide at regions in a carboxy direction from epitope 1
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