Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infects more than 350 million people, of which one million will die every year. The infectious virion is an enveloped capsid containing the viral polymerase and double-stranded DNA genome. The structure of the capsid assembled in vitro from expressed core protein has been studied intensively. However, little is known about the structure and assembly of native capsids present in infected cells, and even less is known about the structure of mature virions. We used electron cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM) and image analysis to examine HBV virions (Dane particles) isolated from patient serum and capsids positive and negative for HBV DNA isolated from the livers of transgenic mice. Both types of capsids assembled as icosahedral particles indistinguishable from previous image reconstructions of capsids. Likewise, the virions contained capsids with either T = 3 or T = 4 icosahedral symmetry. Projections extending from the lipid envelope were attributed to surface glycoproteins. Their packing was unexpectedly nonicosahedral but conformed to an ordered lattice. These structural features distinguish HBV from other enveloped viruses.
The essential pre-mRNA splicing factor, U2AF(65), guides the early stages of splice site choice by recognizing a polypyrimidine (Py) tract consensus sequence near the 3' splice site. Since Py tracts are relatively poorly conserved in higher eukaryotes, U2AF(65) is faced with the problem of specifying uridine-rich sequences, yet tolerating a variety of nucleotide substitutions found in natural Py tracts. To better understand these apparently contradictory RNA binding characteristics, the X-ray structure of the U2AF(65) RNA binding domain bound to a Py tract composed of seven uridines has been determined at 2.5 A resolution. Specific hydrogen bonds between U2AF(65) and the uracil bases provide an explanation for polyuridine recognition. Flexible side chains and bound water molecules form the majority of the base contacts and potentially could rearrange when the U2AF(65) structure adapts to different Py tract sequences. The energetic importance of conserved residues for Py tract binding is established by analysis of site-directed mutant U2AF(65) proteins using surface plasmon resonance.