Although hepatitis C virus (HCV) assembly remains incompletely understood, recent studies with the genotype 2a JFH-1 strain suggest that it is dependent upon the phosphorylation of Ser residues near the C terminus of NS5A, a multifunctional nonstructural protein. Since genotype 1 viruses account for most HCV disease yet differ substantially in sequence from that of JFH-1, we studied the role of NS5A in the production of the H77S virus. While less efficient than JFH-1, genotype 1a H77S RNA produces infectious virus when transfected into permissive Huh-7 cells. The exchange of complete NS5A sequences between these viruses was highly detrimental to replication, while exchanges of the C-terminal domain III sequence (46% amino acid sequence identity) were well tolerated, with little effect on RNA synthesis. Surprisingly, the placement of the H77S domain III sequence into JFH-1 resulted in increased virus yields; conversely, H77S yields were reduced by the introduction of domain III from JFH-1. These changes in infectious virus yield correlated well with changes in the abundance of NS5A in RNA-transfected cells but not with RNA replication or core protein expression levels. Alanine replacement mutagenesis of selected Ser and Thr residues in the C-terminal domain III sequence revealed no single residue to be essential for infectious H77S virus production. However, virus production was eliminated by Ala substitutions at multiple residues and could be restored by phosphomimetic Asp substitutions at these sites. Thus, despite low overall sequence homology, the production of infectious virus is regulated similarly in JFH-1 and H77S viruses by a conserved function associated with a C-terminal Ser/Thr cluster in domain III of NS5A.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science