1. Physics of Living Systems
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Shape selection and mis-assembly in viral capsid formation by elastic frustration

  1. Carlos I Mendoza  Is a corresponding author
  2. David Reguera
  1. National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico
  2. Universitat de Barcelona, Spain
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2020;9:e52525 doi: 10.7554/eLife.52525


The successful assembly of a closed protein shell (or capsid) is a key step in the replication of viruses and in the production of artificial viral cages for bio/nanotechnological applications. During self-assembly, the favorable binding energy competes with the energetic cost of the growing edge and the elastic stresses generated due to the curvature of the capsid. As a result, incomplete structures such as open caps, cylindrical or ribbon-shaped shells may emerge, preventing the successful replication of viruses. Using elasticity theory and coarse-grained simulations, we analyze the conditions required for these processes to occur and their significance for empty virus self-assembly. We find that the outcome of the assembly can be recast into a universal phase diagram showing that viruses with high mechanical resistance cannot be self-assembled directly as spherical structures. The results of our study justify the need of a maturation step and suggest promising routes to hinder viral infections by inducing mis-assembly.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Carlos I Mendoza

    Materials Research Institute, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-9769-240X
  2. David Reguera

    Departament de Física de la Materia Condensada, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-6395-6112


Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (DGAPA IN-110516)

  • Carlos I Mendoza

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (DGAPA IN-103419)

  • Carlos I Mendoza

Gobierno de Espana (FIS2015-67837-P)

  • David Reguera

MINECO/FEDER, UE (PGC2018-098373-B-I00)

  • David Reguera

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Pierre Sens, Institut Curie, PSL Research University, CNRS, France

Publication history

  1. Received: October 7, 2019
  2. Accepted: April 6, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: April 21, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: April 24, 2020 (version 2)


© 2020, Mendoza & Reguera

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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