RNA Encapsulation Mode and Evolutionary Insights from the Crystal Structure of Emaravirus Nucleoprotein

Lee S. Izhaki-Tavor, Itai G. Yechezkel, Joel Alter, Moshe Dessau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Enveloped RNA viruses are rare among plant viruses. Fimoviridae is a newly founded family of plant viruses within the Bunyavirales order that inflicts diverse crop losses worldwide. The fig mosaic virus (FMV), the representative member of the Fimoviridae family, was shown to be a causative agent for the fig mosaic disease. Like all bunyaviruses, FMV has a segmented, negative-sense, single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) genome that is encapsulated by the viral nucleoprotein (N). Here, we present high-resolution crystal structures of FMV N in its RNA-free and RNA-bound forms, revealing a “paper fortune teller” structural transition between the two states. The tightly packed tetramer of FNV N is similar to the structures of other N proteins of different members of the Bunyavirales order. In its RNA-bound form, the tetramer reorganizes to adopt a more open state that allows the accommodation of the RNA. Despite the low sequence similarity to N proteins of animal-infecting bunyaviruses, there is a striking structural resemblance between FMV N and nucleoproteins from members of the Peribunyaviridae, an animal-infecting family of viruses. This structural homology implies that enveloped plant viruses and animal-infecting viruses might have a common ancestor from which they diverged. IMPORTANCE Most insect-born viruses circulate within the Animalia kingdom, whereas plant-infecting RNA viruses are cross-kingdom pathogens. Many plant-infecting viruses cause devastating crop damage that leads to food security endangerment. The evolutionary crossroads of interkingdom circulation and infection are poorly understood. Thus, we took the structural approach to understand the similarities and differences between interkingdom-infecting viruses and viruses that circulate within one kingdom of life. Using our structures of FMV N in its free form and in complex with a single-stranded RNA (ssRNA), we dissected the mechanism by which FMV N binds to the RNA and revealed the conformational changes associated with the binding. The resemblance of our structure to N proteins from members of the Peribunyaviridae family and their recently published ribonucleoprotein (RNP) pseudoatomic resolution assembly model suggests that the FMV genome is similarly encapsulated. Thus, our finding unveils yet another bridge by which plant- and animal-infecting viruses are interconnected.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 Izhaki-Tavor et al.


  • Fimoviridae
  • KEYWORDS Bunyavirales
  • RNA encapsulation
  • X-ray crystallography
  • fig mosaic virus
  • nucleoprotein
  • plant viruses
  • protein-RNA interactions
  • virus evolution


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