1.K.3 The PhiX174 Tube-forming Spike Protein H (PhiX174-H) Family

Prokaryotic viruses have evolved various mechanisms to transport their genomes across bacterial cell envelopes. Many bacteriophages use a tail to perform this function, whereas tail-less phages rely on host organelles. However, the tail-less, icosahedral, single-stranded DNA PhiX174-like coliphages do not fall into these well-defined infection processes. For these phages, DNA delivery requires a DNA pilot protein. Sun et al. 2014 showed that the PhiX174 pilot protein H oligomerizes to form a tube whose function is probably to deliver the DNA genome across the host's envelope to the cytoplasm. The 2.4 A resolution crystal structure of the in vitro assembled H protein's central domain consists of a 170 A-long α-helical barrel. The tube is constructed of ten α-helices with their amino termini arrayed in a right-handed super-helical coiled-coil and their carboxy termini arrayed in a left-handed super-helical coiled-coil. Genetic and biochemical studies demonstrated that the tube is essential for infectivity but does not affect in vivo virus assembly. Cryo-electron tomograms showed that tubes span the periplasmic space and are present while the genome is being delivered into the host cell's cytoplasm. Each end of the H protein contains a TMS, which anchors the assembled tubes into the inner and outer cell membranes. The central channel of the H-protein tube is lined with amide and guanidinium side chains. This may be a general property of viral DNA conduits and is likely to be critical for efficient genome translocation into the host (Sun et al. 2014).

The generalized reaction catalyzed by the H protein is:

Phage DNA (out) → Phage DNA (in).



Sun, L., L.N. Young, X. Zhang, S.P. Boudko, A. Fokine, E. Zbornik, A.P. Roznowski, I.J. Molineux, M.G. Rossmann, and B.A. Fane. (2014). Icosahedral bacteriophage ΦX174 forms a tail for DNA transport during infection. Nature 505: 432-435.


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample

The Pilot spike protein H.  Forms a hollow tube through which the phage DNA passes from the phage particle to the cytoplasm of the host bacterial cell (Sun et al. 2013).  A single molecule of the minor spike H protein can be found on each of the 12 spikes of the microvirus shell.


Pilot protein H of phage PhiX174


Minor spike protein H of 332 aas.


Protein H of Enterobacteria phage phiK (Bacteriophage phi-K)


Enterobacterial phage NC35 GpH protein of 325 aas and 1 N-terminal TMS

GpH of Enterobacterial phage NC35