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American Society for Microbiology

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology

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Much of virus fate, both in the environment and in physical/chemical treatment, is dependent on electrostatic interactions. Developing an accurate means of predicting virion isoelectric point (pI) would help to understand and anticipate virus fate and transport, especially for viruses that are not readily propagated in the lab. One simple approach to predicting pI estimates the pH at which the sum of charges from ionizable amino acids in capsid proteins approaches zero. However, predicted pIs based on capsid charges frequently deviate by several pH units from empirically measured pIs. Recently, the discrepancy between empirical and predicted pI was attributed to the electrostatic neutralization of predictable polynucleotide-binding regions (PBRs) of the capsid interior. In this paper, we review models presupposing (i) the influence of the viral polynucleotide on surface charge or (ii) the contribution of only exterior residues to surface charge. We then compare these models to the approach of excluding only PBRs and hypothesize a conceptual electrostatic model that aligns with this approach. The PBR exclusion method outperformed methods based on three-dimensional (3D) structure and accounted for major discrepancies in predicted pIs without adversely affecting pI prediction for a diverse range of viruses. In addition, the PBR exclusion method was determined to be the best available method for predicting virus pI, since (i) PBRs are predicted independently of the impact on pI, (ii) PBR prediction relies on proteome sequences rather than detailed structural models, and (iii) PBR exclusion was successfully demonstrated on a diverse set of viruses. These models apply to nonenveloped viruses only. A similar model for enveloped viruses is complicated by a lack of data on enveloped virus pI, as well as uncertainties regarding the influence of the phospholipid envelope on charge and ion gradients.


Published version. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Vol. 87, No. 3 (February 2021): e02319. DOI. © 2021 American Society for Microbiology. Used with permission.

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