For Hepatitis C virus (HCV), initiation of translation is cap-independently mediated by its internal ribosome entry site (IRES). Unlike other IRES-containing viruses that shut off host cap-dependent translation, translation of HCV coexists with that of the host. How HCV IRES-mediated translation is regulated in the infected cells remains unclear. Here, we show that the intracellular level of 40S ribosomal subunit plays a key role in facilitating HCV translation over host translation. In a loss-of-function screen, we identified small subunit ribosomal protein 6 (RPS6) as an indispensable host factor for HCV propagation. Knockdown of RPS6 selectively repressed HCV IRES-mediated translation, but not general translation. Such preferential suppression of HCV translation correlated well with the reduction of the abundance of 40S ribosomal subunit following knockdown of RPS6 or other RPS genes. In contrast, reduction of the amount of ribosomal proteins of the 60S subunit did not produce similar effects. Among the components of general translation machineries, only knockdowns of RPS genes caused inhibitory effects on HCV translation, pointing out the unique role of 40S subunit abundance in HCV translation. This work demonstrates an unconventional notion that the translation initiation of HCV and host possess different susceptibility toward reduction of 40S ribosomal subunit, and provides a model of selective modulation of IRES-mediated translation through manipulating the level of 40S subunit.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection causes chronic liver diseases that threaten ∼2% of the world population. There is no effective vaccine, and the current standard therapy, the combination of interferon and ribavirin, is effective to less than 50% of genotype-1 infected patients. While antivirals targeting at specific HCV proteins might ultimately lose their effectiveness due to the emergence of resistance-associated mutations, an alternative strategy that explores the genetic stability of host factors indispensable for HCV replication may provide better therapeutic targets for anti-HCV medicine. Here, we employed a loss-of-function screen method to identify such potential targets and uncovered a potential novel anti-HCV mechanism by manipulating the biogenesis of 40S ribosomal subunit. We showed that inhibiting 40S ribosome biogenesis can selectively suppress HCV translation and thus effectively inhibit HCV replication. In contrast to the conventional thinking, the 40S ribosomal subunit can differentially affect different translational modes, and HCV translation is more sensitive to the amounts of 40S ribosomal subunit as compared to general translation in host cell. Since HCV is known to evade anti-viral effects including translational suppression elicited by interferon, our findings may help design a therapeutic strategy to supplement interferon-based therapy and minimize mutation-associated drug resistance problem.
Initiation of protein synthesis on the hepatitis C virus (HCV) mRNA involves a structured element corresponding to the 5′ untranslated region and constituting an internal ribosome entry site (IRES). The domain IIId of the HCV IRES, an imperfect RNA hairpin extending from nucleotides 253 to 279 of the viral mRNA, has been shown to be essential for translation and for the binding of the 40S ribosomal subunit. We investigated the properties of a series of antisense 2′-O-methyloligoribonucleotides targeted to various portions of the domain IIId. Several oligomers, 14–17 nt in length, selectively inhibited in vitro translation of a bicistronic RNA construct in rabbit reticulocyte lysate with IC50s <10 nM. The effect was restricted to the second cistron (the Renilla luciferase) located downstream of the HCV IRES; no effect was observed on the expression of the first cistron (the firefly luciferase) which was translated in a cap-dependent manner. Moreover, antisense 2′-O-methyloligoribonucleotides specifically competed with the 40S ribosomal subunit for binding to the IRES RNA in a filter- retention assay. The antisense efficiency of the oligonucleotides was nicely correlated to their affinity for the IIId subdomain and to their ability to displace 40S ribosomal subunit, making this process a likely explanation for in vitro inhibition of HCV-IRES-dependent translation.
The mechanism of initiation of translation on hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA was investigated in vitro. HCV RNA was transcribed from the cDNA that corresponded to nucleotide positions 9 to 1772 of the genome by using phage T7 RNA polymerase. Both capped and uncapped RNAs thus transcribed were active as mRNAs in a cell-free protein synthesis system with lysates prepared from HeLa S3 cells or rabbit reticulocytes, and the translation products were detected by anti-gp35 antibodies. The data indicate that protein synthesis starts at the fourth AUG, which was the initiator AUG at position 333 of the HCV RNA used in this study. Efficiency of translation of the capped methylated RNA appeared to be similar to that of the capped unmethylated RNA. However, a capped methylated RNA showed a much higher activity as mRNA than did the capped unmethylated RNA in rabbit reticulocyte lysates when the RNA lacked a nucleotide sequence upstream of position 267. The results strongly suggest that HCV RNA carries an internal ribosome entry site (IRES). Artificial mono- and dicistronic mRNAs were prepared and used to identify the region that carried the IRES. The results indicate that the sequence between nucleotide positions 101 and 332 in the 5' untranslated region of HCV RNA plays an important role in efficient translation. Our data suggest that the IRES resides in this region of the RNA. Furthermore, an IRES in the group II HCV RNA was found to be more efficient than that in the group I HCV RNA.
Combinations of direct-acting anti-virals offer the potential to improve the efficacy, tolerability and duration of the current treatment regimen for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Viral entry represents a distinct therapeutic target that has been validated clinically for a number of pathogenic viruses. To discover novel inhibitors of HCV entry, we conducted a high throughput screen of a proprietary small-molecule compound library using HCV pseudoviral particle (HCVpp) technology. We independently discovered and optimized a series of 1,3,5-triazine compounds that are potent, selective and non-cytotoxic inhibitors of HCV entry. Representative compounds fully suppress both cell-free virus and cell-to-cell spread of HCV in vitro. We demonstrate, for the first time, that long term treatment of an HCV cell culture with a potent entry inhibitor promotes sustained viral clearance in vitro. We have confirmed that a single amino acid variant, V719G, in the transmembrane domain of E2 is sufficient to confer resistance to multiple compounds from the triazine series. Resistance studies were extended by evaluating both the fusogenic properties and growth kinetics of drug-induced and natural amino acid variants in the HCVpp and HCV cell culture assays. Our results indicate that amino acid variations at position 719 incur a significant fitness penalty. Introduction of I719 into a genotype 1b envelope sequence did not affect HCV entry; however, the overall level of HCV replication was reduced compared to the parental genotype 1b/2a HCV strain. Consistent with these findings, I719 represents a significant fraction of the naturally occurring genotype 1b sequences. Importantly, I719, the most relevant natural polymorphism, did not significantly alter the susceptibility of HCV to the triazine compounds. The preclinical properties of these triazine compounds support further investigation of entry inhibitors as a potential novel therapy for HCV infection.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) affects an estimated 3% of the population and is a leading cause of chronic liver disease worldwide. Since HCV therapeutic and preventative options are limited, the development of new HCV antivirals has become a global health care concern. This has spurred the development of cell-based infectious HCV high-throughput screening assays to test the ability of compounds to inhibit HCV infection. This unit describes methods that may be used to assess the in vitro efficacy of HCV antivirals using a cell-based high-throughput fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) HCV infection screening assay, which allows for the identification of inhibitors that target HCV at any step in the viral life cycle. Basic protocols are provided for compound screening during HCV infection and analysis of compound efficacy using an HCV FRET assay. Support protocols are provided for propagation of infectious HCV and measurement of viral infectivity.
hepatitis C virus; viral lifecycle; Huh7 cells; dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO); fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET); NS3 protease; antivirals; high-throughput screening
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) replicon is a unique system for the development of a high-throughput screen (HTS), since the analysis of inhibitors requires the quantification of a decrease in a steady-state level of HCV RNA. HCV replicon replication is dependent on host cell factors, and any toxic effects may have a significant impact on HCV replicon replication. Therefore, determining the antiviral specificity of compounds presents a challenge for the identification of specific HCV inhibitors. Here we report the development of an HCV/bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) dual replicon assay suitable for HTS to address these issues. The HCV reporter enzyme is the endogenous NS3 protease contained within the HCV genome, while the BVDV reporter enzyme is a luciferase enzyme engineered into the BVDV genome. The HTS uses a mixture of HCV and BVDV replicon cell lines placed in the same well of a 96-well plate and isolated in the same cell backgrounds (Huh-7). The format consists of three separate but compatible assays: the first quantitates the amount of cytotoxicity based upon the conversion of Alamar blue dye via cellular enzymes, while the second indirectly quantitates HCV replicon replication through measurement of the amount of NS3 protease activity present. The final assay measures the amount of luciferase activity present from the BVDV replicon cells, as an indicator of the specificity of the test compounds. This HCV/BVDV dual replicon assay provides a reliable format to determine the potency and specificity of HCV replicon inhibitors.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) NS5B polymerase is a key target for the development of therapeutic agents aimed at the treatment of HCV infections. Here we report on the identification of novel allosteric inhibitors of HCV NS5B through a combination of structure-based virtual screening, synthesis and structure-activity relationship (SAR) optimization approach. Virtual screening of 260,000 compounds from the ChemBridge database against the tetracyclic indole inhibitor binding pocket of NS5B (allosteric pocket-1, AP-1), sequentially down-sized the library by 4 orders of magnitude to yield 23 candidates. In vitro evaluation of the NS5B inhibitory activity of the in-silico selected compounds resulted in 17% hit rate, identifying two novel chemotypes. Of these, compound 3, bearing the rhodanine scaffold, proved amenable for productive SAR exploration and synthetic modification. As a result, 25 derivatives that exhibited IC50 values ranging from 7.7 to 68.0 μM were developed. Docking analysis of lead compound 28 within the tetracyclic indole- and benzylidene-binding allosteric pockets (AP-1 and AP-3, respectively) of NS5B revealed topological similarities between these two pockets. Compound 28, a novel rhodanine analog with NS5B inhibitory potency in the low micromolar level range may be a promising lead for future development of more potent NS5B inhibitors.
NS5B polymerase; Virtual screening; Rhodanine; Imidazocoumarin, SAR
To investigate the role of the hepatitis C virus internal ribosome entry site (HCV IRES) domain IV in translation initiation and regulation, two chimeric IRES elements were constructed to contain the reciprocal domain IV in the otherwise HCV and classical swine fever virus IRES elements. This permitted an examination of the role of domain IV in the control of HCV translation. A specific inhibitor of the HCV IRES, vitamin B12, was shown to inhibit translation directed by all IRES elements which contained domain IV from the HCV and the GB virus B IRES elements, whereas the HCV core protein could only suppress translation from the wild-type HCV IRES. Thus, the mechanisms of translation inhibition by vitamin B12 and the core protein differ, and they target different regions of the IRES.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA initiates its replication on a detergent-resistant membrane structure derived from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in the HCV replicon cells. By performing a pulse-chase study of BrU-labeled HCV RNA, we found that the newly-synthesized HCV RNA traveled along the anterograde-membrane traffic and moved away from the ER. Presumably, the RNA moved to the site of translation or virion assembly in the later steps of viral life cycle. In this study, we further addressed how HCV RNA translation was regulated by HCV RNA trafficking. When the movement of HCV RNA from the site of RNA synthesis to the Golgi complex was blocked by nocodazole, an inhibitor of ER-Golgi transport, HCV protein translation was surprisingly enhanced, suggesting that the translation of viral proteins occurred near the site of RNA synthesis. We also found that the translation of HCV proteins was dependent on active RNA synthesis: inhibition of viral RNA synthesis by an NS5B inhibitor resulted in decreased HCV viral protein synthesis even when the total amount of intracellular HCV RNA remained unchanged. Furthermore, the translation activity of the replication-defective HCV replicons or viral RNA with an NS5B mutation was greatly reduced as compared to that of the corresponding wildtype RNA. By performing live cell labeling of newly synthesized HCV RNA and proteins, we further showed that the newly synthesized HCV proteins colocalized with the newly synthesized viral RNA, suggesting that HCV RNA replication and protein translation take place at or near the same site. Our findings together indicate that the translation of HCV RNA is coupled to RNA replication and that the both processes may occur at the same subcellular membrane compartments, which we term the replicasome.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a positive strand RNA virus that propagates primarily in the liver. We show here that the liver-specific microRNA-122 (miR-122), a member of a class of small cellular RNAs that mediate post-transcriptional gene regulation usually by repressing the translation of mRNAs through interaction with their 3′-untranslated regions (UTRs), stimulates the translation of HCV. Sequestration of miR-122 in liver cell lines strongly reduces HCV translation, whereas addition of miR-122 stimulates HCV translation in liver cell lines as well as in the non-liver HeLa cells and in rabbit reticulocyte lysate. The stimulation is conferred by direct interaction of miR-122 with two target sites in the 5′-UTR of the HCV genome. With a replication-defective NS5B polymerase mutant genome, we show that the translation stimulation is independent of viral RNA synthesis. miR-122 stimulates HCV translation by enhancing the association of ribosomes with the viral RNA at an early initiation stage. In conclusion, the liver-specific miR-122 may contribute to HCV liver tropism at the level of translation.
5′-UTR; HCV; IRES; microRNA; translation
Human La protein is known to interact with hepatitis C virus (HCV) internal ribosome entry site (IRES) and stimulate translation. Previously, we demonstrated that mutations within HCV SL IV lead to reduced binding to La-RNA recognition motif 2 (RRM2) and drastically affect HCV IRES-mediated translation. Also, the binding of La protein to SL IV of HCV IRES was shown to impart conformational alterations within the RNA so as to facilitate the formation of functional initiation complex. Here, we report that a synthetic peptide, LaR2C, derived from the C terminus of La-RRM2 competes with the binding of cellular La protein to the HCV IRES and acts as a dominant negative inhibitor of internal initiation of translation of HCV RNA. The peptide binds to the HCV IRES and inhibits the functional initiation complex formation. An Huh7 cell line constitutively expressing a bicistronic RNA in which both cap-dependent and HCV IRES-mediated translation can be easily assayed has been developed. The addition of purified TAT-LaR2C recombinant polypeptide that allows direct delivery of the peptide into the cells showed reduced expression of HCV IRES activity in this cell line. The study reveals valuable insights into the role of La protein in ribosome assembly at the HCV IRES and also provides the basis for targeting ribosome-HCV IRES interaction to design potent antiviral therapy.
Enhancement of eukaryotic messenger RNA (mRNA) translation initiation by the 3′ poly(A) tail is mediated through interaction of poly(A)-binding protein with eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 4G, bridging the 5′ terminal cap structure. In contrast to cellular mRNA, translation of the uncapped, non-polyadenylated hepatitis C virus (HCV) genome occurs independently of eIF4G and a role for 3′-untranslated sequences in modifying HCV gene expression is controversial. Utilizing cell-based and in vitro translation assays, we show that the HCV 3′-untranslated region (UTR) or a 3′ poly(A) tract of sufficient length interchangeably stimulate translation dependent upon the HCV internal ribosomal entry site (IRES). However, in contrast to cap-dependent translation, the rate of initiation at the HCV IRES was unaffected by 3′-untranslated sequences. Analysis of post-initiation events revealed that the 3′ poly(A) tract and HCV 3′-UTR improve translation efficiency by enabling termination and possibly ribosome recycling for successive rounds of translation.
The 5′ nontranslated RNA (5′NTR) of a genotype 1b hepatitis C virus (HCV-N) directs cap-independent translation of the HCV-N polyprotein with about twofold less efficiency than the 5′NTR of a genotype 1a virus under physiologic conditions (Hutchinson strain, or HCV-H) (M. Honda et al., Virology 222:31–42, 1996). Here, we show by mutational analysis that substitution of the AG dinucleotide sequence at nucleotides (nt) 34 and 35 of HCV-N with GA (present in HCV-H) restores the translational activity to that of the HCV-H 5′NTR both in vitro and in vivo. These nucleotides are located upstream of the minimal essential internal ribosome entry site (IRES), as a 6-nt deletion spanning nt 32 to 37 also increased the translational activity of the HCV-N 5′NTR to that of HCV-H. Thus, the upstream AG dinucleotide sequence has an inhibitory effect on IRES-directed translation. Surprisingly, however, this inhibitory effect was observed only when the translated, downstream RNA sequence contained nt 408 to 929 of HCV (capsid-coding RNA). Further analysis of RNA transcripts containing frameshift mutations demonstrated that the nucleotide sequence of the transcript, and not the amino acid sequence of the expressed capsid protein, determines this difference in translation efficiency. The difference between the translational activities of the HCV-N and HCV-H transcripts was increased when translation was carried out in reticulocyte lysates containing high K+ concentrations, with a sevenfold difference evident at 130 to 150 mM K+. These results suggest that there is an RNA-RNA interaction involving 5′NTR and capsid-coding sequences flanking the IRES and that this is responsible for the reduced IRES activity of the genotype 1b virus, HCV-N.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major cause of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Interferon alone or together with ribavirin is the only therapy for HCV infection; however, a significant number of HCV-infected individuals do not respond to this treatment. Therefore, the development of new therapeutic options against HCV is a matter of urgency. In the present study, we have examined vectors carrying short hairpin RNA (shRNA) targeting the 5′ nontranslated conserved region of the HCV genome for inhibition of virus replication. Initially, three sequences were selected, and all three shRNAs (psh-53, psh-274, and psh-375) suppressed HCV internal ribosome entry site (IRES)-mediated translation to different degrees in Huh-7 cells. Next, we introduced siRNA into Huh-7.5 cells persistently infected with HCV genotype 2a (JFH1). The most efficient inhibition of JFH1 replication was observed with psh-274, targeted to the portion from subdomain IIId to IIIe of the IRES. Subsequently, Huh-7.5 cells stably expressing psh-274 further displayed a significant reduction in HCV JFH1 replication. The effect of psh-274 on cell-culture-grown HCV genotype 1a (H77) was also evaluated, and inhibition of virus replication and infectivity titers was observed. In the absence of a cell-culture-grown HCV genotype 1b, the effects of psh-274 on subgenomic and full-length replicons were examined, and efficient inhibition of genome replication was observed. Therefore, we have identified a conserved sequence targeted to the HCV genome that can inhibit replication of different genotypes, suggesting the potential of siRNA as an additional therapeutic modality against HCV infection.
We developed a functional selection system based on randomized genetic elements (GE) to identify potential regulators of hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA translation, a process initiated by an internal ribosomal entry site (IRES). A retroviral HCV GE library was introduced into HepG2 cells, stably expressing the Herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-TK) under the control of the HCV IRES. Cells that expressed transduced GEs inhibiting HSV-TK were selected via their resistance to ganciclovir. Six major GEs were rescued by PCR on the selected cell DNA and identified as HCV elements. We validated our strategy by further studying the activity of one of them, GE4, encoding the 5′ end of the viral NS5A gene. GE4 inhibited HCV IRES-, but not cap-dependent, reporter translation in human hepatic cell lines and inhibited HCV infection at a post-entry step, decreasing by 85% the number of viral RNA copies. This method can be applied to the identification of gene expression regulators.
A novel nonnucleoside inhibitor of hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), [(1R)-5-cyano-8-methyl-1-propyl-1,3,4,9-tetrahydropyano[3,4-b]indol-1-yl] acetic acid (HCV-371), was discovered through high-throughput screening followed by chemical optimization. HCV-371 displayed broad inhibitory activities against the NS5B RdRp enzyme, with 50% inhibitory concentrations ranging from 0.3 to 1.8 μM for 90% of the isolates derived from HCV genotypes 1a, 1b, and 3a. HCV-371 showed no inhibitory activity against a panel of human polymerases, including mitochondrial DNA polymerase gamma, and other unrelated viral polymerases, demonstrating its specificity for the HCV polymerase. A single administration of HCV-371 to cells containing the HCV subgenomic replicon for 3 days resulted in a dose-dependent reduction of the steady-state levels of viral RNA and protein. Multiple treatments with HCV-371 for 16 days led to a >3-log10 reduction in the HCV RNA level. In comparison, multiple treatments with a similar inhibitory dose of alpha interferon resulted in a 2-log10 reduction of the viral RNA level. In addition, treatment of cells with a combination of HCV-371 and pegylated alpha interferon resulted in an additive antiviral activity. Within the effective antiviral concentrations of HCV-371, there was no effect on cell viability and metabolism. The intracellular antiviral specificity of HCV-371 was demonstrated by its lack of activity in cells infected with several DNA or RNA viruses. Fluorescence binding studies show that HCV-371 binds the NS5B with an apparent dissociation constant of 150 nM, leading to high selectivity and lack of cytotoxicity in the antiviral assays.
Translation initiation of hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA occurs by internal entry of a ribosome into the 5′ nontranslated region in a cap-independent manner. The HCV RNA sequence from about nucleotide 40 up to the N terminus of the coding sequence of the core protein is required for efficient internal initiation of translation, though the precise border of the HCV internal ribosomal entry site (IRES) has yet to be determined. Several cellular proteins have been proposed to direct HCV IRES-dependent translation by binding to the HCV IRES. Here we report on a novel cellular protein that specifically interacts with the 3′ border of the HCV IRES in the core-coding sequence. This protein with an apparent molecular mass of 68 kDa turned out to be heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein L (hnRNP L). The binding of hnRNP L to the HCV IRES correlates with the translational efficiencies of corresponding mRNAs. This finding suggests that hnRNP L may play an important role in the translation of HCV mRNA through the IRES element.
Phosphatidylinositol-4-kinase IIIα (PI4KIIIα) is an essential host cell factor for hepatitis C virus (HCV) replication. An N-terminally truncated 130-kDa form was used to reconstitute an in vitro biochemical lipid kinase assay that was optimized for small-molecule compound screening and identified potent and specific inhibitors. Cell culture studies with PI4KIIIα inhibitors demonstrated that the kinase activity was essential for HCV RNA replication. Two PI4KIIIα inhibitors were used to select cell lines harboring HCV replicon mutants with a 20-fold loss in sensitivity to the compounds. Reverse genetic mapping isolated an NS4B-NS5A segment that rescued HCV RNA replication in PIK4IIIα-deficient cells. HCV RNA replication occurs on specialized membranous webs, and this study with PIK4IIIα inhibitor-resistant mutants provides a genetic link between NS4B/NS5A functions and PI4-phosphate lipid metabolism. A comprehensive assessment of PI4KIIIα as a drug target included its evaluation for pharmacologic intervention in vivo through conditional transgenic murine lines that mimic target-specific inhibition in adult mice. Homozygotes that induce a knockout of the kinase domain or knock in a single amino acid substitution, kinase-defective PI4KIIIα, displayed a lethal phenotype with a fairly widespread mucosal epithelial degeneration of the gastrointestinal tract. This essential host physiologic role raises doubt about the pursuit of PI4KIIIα inhibitors for treatment of chronic HCV infection.
Chronic infection by hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a cause of the global burden of liver diseases. HCV entry into hepatocytes is a complicated and multistep process that represents a promising target for antiviral intervention. The recently reported amphipathic α-helical virucidal peptide (C5A) from the HCV NS5A protein suggests a new category of antiviral drug candidates. In this study, to identify C5A-like HCV inhibitors, synthetic peptides derived from the C5A-corresponding NS5 protein region of selected Flaviviridae viruses were evaluated for their anti-HCV activities. A peptide from GB virus A (GBV-A), but not other flaviviruses, demonstrated an inhibitory effect on HCV infection. Through a series of sequence optimizations and modifications of the peptide helicity and hydrophobicity, we obtained a peptide designated GBVA10-9 with highly potent anti-HCV activity. GBVA10-9 suppressed infection with both cell culture-derived and pseudotyped HCV in vitro, and the 50% cell culture inhibitory concentration ranged from 20 nM to 160 nM, depending on the genotypic origin of the envelope proteins. GBVA10-9 had no detectable effects on either HCV attachment to Huh7.5.1 cells or viral RNA replication. No virucidal activity was found with GBVA10-9, suggesting an action mechanism distinct from that of C5A. The inhibitory effect of GBVA10-9 appeared to occur at the postbinding step during viral entry. Taken together, the results with GBVA10-9 demonstrated a potent activity for blocking HCV entry that might be used in combination with other antivirals directly targeting virus-encoded enzymes. Furthermore, GBVA10-9 also provides a novel tool to dissect the detailed mechanisms of HCV entry.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) research and drug discovery have been facilitated by the introduction of cell lines with self-replicating subgenomic HCV replicons. Early attempts to carry out robust, high-throughput screens (HTS) using HCV replicons have met with limited success. Specifically, selectable replicons have required laborious reverse transcription-PCR quantitation, and reporter replicons have generated low signal-to-noise ratios. In this study, we constructed a dicistronic single reporter (DSR)-selectable HCV replicon that contained a humanized Renilla luciferase (hRLuc) gene separated from the selectable Neor marker by a short peptide cleavage site. The mutations E1202G, T1280I, and S2197P were introduced to enhance replicative capability. A dicistronic dual-reporter HCV replicon cell line (DDR) was subsequently created by transfection of Huh-7 cells with the DSR replicon to monitor antiviral activity and by the introduction of the firefly luciferase (FLuc) reporter gene into the host cell genome to monitor cytotoxicity. The DDR cell line demonstrated low signal variation within the HTS format, with a calculated Z′ value of 0.8. A pilot HTS consisting of 20 96-well plates with a single concentration (10 μM) of 1,760 different compounds was executed. Hits were defined as compounds that reduced hRLuc and FLuc signals ≥50 and ≤40%, respectively, relative to those in a compound-free control. Good reproducibility was demonstrated, with a calculated confirmation rate of >75%. The development of a robust, high-throughput HCV replicon assay where the effects of inhibitors can be monitored for antiviral activity and cytotoxicity should greatly facilitate HCV drug discovery.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) NS5B polymerase is a key target for the development of anti-HCV drugs. Here we report on the identification of novel allosteric inhibitors of HCV NS5B through a combination of structure-based virtual screening and in vitro NS5B inhibition assays. One hundred and sixty thousand compounds from the Otava database were virtually screened against the thiazolone inhibitor binding site on NS5B (thumb pocket-2, TP-2), resulting in a sequential down-sizing of the library by 2.7 orders of magnitude to yield 59 NS5B non-nucleoside inhibitor (NNI) candidates. In vitro evaluation of the NS5B inhibitory activity of the 59 selected compounds resulted in a 14% hit rate, yielding 8 novel structural scaffolds. Of these, compound 1 bearing a 4-hydrazinoquinazoline scaffold was the most active (IC50 = 16.0 µM). The binding site of all 8 NNIs was mapped to TP-2 of NS5B as inferred by a decrease in their inhibition potency against the M423T NS5B mutant, employed as a screen for TP-2 site binders. At 100 µM concentration, none of the eight compounds exhibited any cytotoxicity, and all except compound 8 exhibited between 40–60% inhibition of intracellular NS5B polymerase activity in BHK-NS5B-FRLuc reporter cells. These inhibitor scaffolds will form the basis for future optimization and development of more potent NS5B inhibitors.
Hepatitis C virus; NS5B polymerase; virtual screening; NS5B inhibitors; thumb pocket
Translational initiation of hepatitis C virus (HCV) mRNA occurs by internal entry of ribosomes into an internal ribosomal entry site (IRES) at the 5′ nontranslated region. A region encoding the N-terminal part of the HCV polyprotein has been shown to augment the translation of HCV mRNA. Here we show that a cellular protein, NS1-associated protein 1 (NSAP1), augments HCV mRNA translation through a specific interaction with an adenosine-rich protein-coding region within the HCV mRNA. The overexpression of NSAP1 specifically enhanced HCV IRES-dependent translation, and knockdown of NSAP1 by use of a small interfering RNA specifically inhibited the translation of HCV mRNA. An HCV replicon RNA capable of mimicking the HCV proliferation process in host cells was further used to confirm that NSAP1 enhances the translation of HCV mRNA. These results suggest the existence of a novel mechanism of translational enhancement that acts through the interaction of an RNA-binding protein with a protein coding sequence.
Translation initiation of some viral and cellular mRNAs occurs by ribosome binding to an internal ribosome entry site (IRES). Internal initiation mediated by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) IRES in Saccharomyces cerevisiae was shown by translation of the second open reading frame in a bicistronic mRNA. Introduction of a single base change in the HCV IRES, known to abrogate internal initiation in mammalian cells, abolished translation of the second open reading frame. Internal initiation mediated by the HCV IRES was independent of the nonsense-mediated decay pathway and the cap binding protein eIF4E, indicating that translation is not a result of mRNA degradation or 5′-end-dependent initiation. Human La protein binds the HCV IRES and is required for efficient internal initiation. Disruption of the S. cerevisiae genes that encode La protein orthologs and synthesis of wild-type human La protein in yeast had no effect on HCV IRES-dependent translation. Polypyrimidine tract-binding protein (Ptb) and poly-(rC)-binding protein 2 (Pcbp2), which may be required for HCV IRES-dependent initiation in mammalian cells, are not encoded within the S. cerevisiae genome. HCV IRES-dependent translation in S. cerevisiae was independent of human Pcbp2 protein and stimulated by the presence of human Ptb protein. These findings demonstrate that the genome of S. cerevisiae encodes all proteins necessary for internal initiation of translation mediated by the HCV IRES.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the major cause of non-A, non-B hepatitis worldwide. Current treatments are not curative for most infected individuals, and there is an urgent need for both novel therapeutic agents and small-animal models which can be used to evaluate candidate drugs. A small-animal model of HCV gene expression was developed with recombinant vaccinia virus vectors. VHCV-IRES (internal ribosome entry site) is a recombinant vaccinia viral vector containing the HCV 5′ nontranslated region (5′-NTR) and a portion of the HCV core coding region fused to the firefly luciferase gene. Intraperitoneal injection of VHCV-IRES produced high levels of luciferase activity in the livers of BALB/c mice. Antisense oligonucleotides complementary to the HCV 5′-NTR and translation initiation codon regions were then evaluated for their effects on the expression of these target HCV sequences in BALB/c mice infected with the vaccinia virus vector. Treatment of VHCV-IRES-infected mice with 20-base phosphorothioate oligonucleotides complementary to the sequence surrounding the HCV initiation codon (nucleotides 330 to 349) specifically reduced luciferase expression in the livers in a dose-dependent manner. Inhibition of HCV reporter gene expression in this small-animal model suggests that antisense oligonucleotides may provide a novel therapy for treatment of chronic HCV infection.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) serine protease is necessary for viral replication and represents a valid target for developing new therapies for HCV infection. Potent and selective inhibitors of this enzyme have been identified and shown to inhibit HCV replication in tissue culture. The optimization of these inhibitors for clinical development would greatly benefit from in vitro systems for the identification and the study of resistant variants. We report the use HCV subgenomic replicons to isolate and characterize mutants resistant to a protease inhibitor. Taking advantage of the replicons' ability to transduce resistance to neomycin, we selected replicons with decreased sensitivity to the inhibitor by culturing the host cells in the presence of the inhibitor and neomycin. The selected replicons replicated to the same extent as those in parental cells. Sequence analysis followed by transfection of replicons containing isolated mutations revealed that resistance was mediated by amino acid substitutions in the protease. These results were confirmed by in vitro experiments with mutant enzymes and by modeling the inhibitor in the three-dimensional structure of the protease.