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An atomic model of the human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) capsid with hexameric (gold) and pentameric (green) assembly units, within a representation of the viral envelope. HIV-1, the predominant AIDS virus, contains a spheroidal capsid enclosing the viral RNA genome. As the retrovirus matures, the capsid forms through spontaneous oligomerization of the capsid protein CA. Using cryo-electron microscopy and cryo-electron tomography, combined with all-atom large-scale molecular dynamics simulations, Gongpu Zhao et al. have determined a complete atomic structure of the HIV-1 capsid. The resulting structural models reveal elements that are essential for capsid formation, stability and viral infectivity. Of special interest are the hydrophobic interactions evident in a novel three-fold interface between the carboxy-terminal domains of CA protein, a feature that appears to be unique to the mature capsid and which has previously been suggested as a potentially attractive therapeutic target. Credit: Juan R. Perilla, John Stone, Ilia A. Solov'yov, Olga Svinarski, Klaus Schulten and Peijun Zhang.