The adenovirus major core protein VII is dispensable for virion assembly but is essential for lytic infection

<div><p>The Adenovirus (Ad) genome within the capsid is tightly associated with a virus-encoded, histone-like core protein—protein VII. Two other Ad core proteins, V and X/μ, also are located within the virion and are loosely associated with viral DNA. Core protein VII remains associated with the Ad genome during the early phase of infection. It is not known if naked Ad DNA is packaged into the capsid, as with dsDNA bacteriophage and herpesviruses, followed by the encapsidation of viral core proteins, or if a unique packaging mechanism exists with Ad where a DNA-protein complex is simultaneously packaged into the virion. The latter model would require an entirely new molecular mechanism for packaging compared to known viral packaging motors. We characterized a virus with a conditional knockout of core protein VII. Remarkably, virus particles were assembled efficiently in the absence of protein VII. No changes in protein composition were evident with VII<sup>−</sup>virus particles, including the abundance of core protein V, but changes in the proteolytic processing of some capsid proteins were evident. Virus particles that lack protein VII enter the cell, but incoming virions did not escape efficiently from endosomes. This greatly diminished all subsequent aspects of the infectious cycle. These results reveal that the Ad major core protein VII is not required to condense viral DNA within the capsid, but rather plays an unexpected role during virus maturation and the early stages of infection. These results establish a new paradigm pertaining to the Ad assembly mechanism and reveal a new and important role of protein VII in early stages of infection.</p></div>