Prestress Strengthens the Shell of Norwalk Virus Nanoparticles

We investigated the influence of the protruding domain of Norwalk virus-like particles (NVLP) on its overall structural and mechanical stability. Deletion of the protruding domain yields smooth mutant particles and our AFM nanoindentation measurements show a surprisingly altered indentation response of these particles. Notably, the brittle behavior of the NVLP as compared to the plastic behavior of the mutant reveals that the protruding domain drastically changes the capsid’s material properties. We conclude that the protruding domain introduces prestress, thereby increasing the stiffness of the NVLP and effectively stabilizing the viral nanoparticles. Our results exemplify the variety of methods that nature has explored to improve the mechanical properties of viral capsids, which in turn provides new insights for developing rationally designed, self-assembled nanodevices.