Despite recent successes in generating subgenomic RNA replicons derived from genotype 1b strains of hepatitis C virus (HCV) that replicate efficiently in cultured cells, it has proven difficult to generate efficiently replicating RNAs from any other genotype of HCV. This includes genotype 1a, even though it is closely related to genotype 1b. We show here that an important restriction to replication of the genotype 1a H77c strain RNA in normal Huh7 cells resides within the amino-terminal 75 residues of the NS3 protease. We identified adaptive mutations located within this NS3 domain and within NS4A, in close proximity to the essential protease cofactor sequence, that act cooperative to substantially enhance the replication of this genotype 1a RNA in Huh7 cells. These and additional adaptive mutations, identified through a series of iterative transfections and the selection of G418-resistant cell clones, form two groups associating with distinct nonstructural protein domains: the NS3/4A protease and NS5A. A combination of mutations from both groups led to robust replication of otherwise unmodified H77c genomic RNA that was readily detectable by northern analysis within 4 days of transfection into Huh7 cells. We speculate that these adaptive mutations favorably influence assembly of the replicase complex with host cell-specific proteins, or alternatively promote interactions of NS3/4A and/or NS5A with cellular proteins involved in host cell antiviral defenses.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science