Large-scale conformational changes transform viral precursors into infectious virions. The structure of bacteriophage HK97 capsid, Head-II, was recently solved by crystallography, revealing a catenated cross-linked topology. We have visualized its precursor, Prohead-II, by cryoelectron microscopy and modeled the conformational change by appropriately adapting Head-II. Rigid-body rotations ( approximately 40 degrees) cause switching to an entirely different set of interactions; in addition, two motifs undergo refolding. These changes stabilize the capsid by increasing the surface area buried at interfaces and bringing the cross-link-forming residues, initially approximately 40 angstroms apart, close together. The inner surface of Prohead-II is negatively charged, suggesting that the transition is triggered electrostatically by DNA packaging.