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J Virol. 1996 January; 70(1): 207–216.
PMCID: PMC189806

Expression in animal cells and characterization of the hepatitis E virus structural proteins.


Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a major human pathogen in much of the developing world. It is a positive-strand RNA virus with a 7.5-kb polyadenylated genome consisting of three open reading frames (ORFs). In the absence of an in vitro culture system, the replication and expression strategy of HEV and the nature of its encoded polypeptides are not well understood. We have expressed the two ORFs constituting the structural portion of the HEV genome in COS-1 cells by using simian virus 40-based expression vectors and in vitro by using a coupled transcription-translation system. We show here that the major capsid protein, encoded by ORF2, is an 88-kDa glycoprotein which is expressed intracellularly as well as on the cell surface and has the potential to form noncovalent homodimers. It is synthesized as a precursor (ppORF2) which is processed through signal sequence cleavage into the mature protein (pORF2), which is then glycosylated (gpORF2). The minor protein, pORF3, encoded by ORF3 is a 13.5-kDa nonglycosylated protein expressed intracellularly and does not show any major processing. pORF3 interacts with a cellular protein of about 18 kDa which we call 3IP, the pORF3-interacting protein. The significance of these findings are discussed in light of an existing model of HEV genome replication and expression.

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