All positive strand RNA viruses are known to replicate their genomes in close association with intracellular membranes. In case of the hepatitis C virus (HCV), a member of the family Flaviviridae, infected cells contain accumulations of vesicles forming a membranous web (MW) that is thought to be the site of viral RNA replication. However, little is known about the biogenesis and three-dimensional structure of the MW. In this study we used a combination of immunofluorescence- and electron microscopy (EM)-based methods to analyze the membranous structures induced by HCV in infected cells. We found that the MW is derived primarily from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and contains markers of rough ER as well as markers of early and late endosomes, COP vesicles, mitochondria and lipid droplets (LDs). The main constituents of the MW are single and double membrane vesicles (DMVs). The latter predominate and the kinetic of their appearance correlates with kinetics of viral RNA replication. DMVs are induced primarily by NS5A whereas NS4B induces single membrane vesicles arguing that MW formation requires the concerted action of several HCV replicase proteins. Three-dimensional reconstructions identify DMVs as protrusions from the ER membrane into the cytosol, frequently connected to the ER membrane via a neck-like structure. In addition, late in infection multi-membrane vesicles become evident, presumably as a result of a stress-induced reaction. Thus, the morphology of the membranous rearrangements induced in HCV-infected cells resemble those of the unrelated picorna-, corona- and arteriviruses, but are clearly distinct from those of the closely related flaviviruses. These results reveal unexpected similarities between HCV and distantly related positive-strand RNA viruses presumably reflecting similarities in cellular pathways exploited by these viruses to establish their membranous replication factories.
All positive-strand RNA viruses replicate in the cytoplasm in distinct membranous compartments acting as ‘replication factories’. Membranes building up these factories are recruited from different sources and serve as platforms for the assembly of multi-subunit protein complexes (the ‘replicase’) that catalyze the amplification of the viral RNA genome. In this study we found that hepatitis C virus (HCV), a major causative agent of chronic liver disease, induces profound remodeling of primarily endoplasmic reticulum-derived membranes. Surprisingly, the 3D architecture of these membrane rearrangements is similar to those induced by the unrelated picorna- and coronaviruses, but in striking contrast to the closely related flaviviruses. Early in infection HCV induces double membrane vesicles (DMVs) that emerge as protrusions of the ER; later on, HCV induces in addition multi-membrane vesicles that are probably the result of a cellular stress reaction and that are reminiscent to an autophagic response. These profound membrane rearrangements are induced by the concerted action of HCV-encoded nonstructural proteins of which NS5A is the only one capable to induce DMVs. These results provide important insights into the 3D architecture of the membrane alterations induced by HCV and reveal unexpected similarities between HCV and the very distantly related picorna- and coronaviruses.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major causative agent of chronic liver disease in humans. To gain insight into host factor requirements for HCV replication we performed a siRNA screen of the human kinome and identified 13 different kinases, including phosphatidylinositol-4 kinase III alpha (PI4KIIIα) as required for HCV replication. Consistent with elevated levels of the PI4KIIIα product phosphatidylinositol-4-phosphate (PI4P) detected in HCV infected cultured hepatocytes and liver tissue from chronic hepatitis C patients, the enzymatic activity of PI4KIIIα was critical for HCV replication. Viral nonstructural protein 5A (NS5A) was found to interact with PI4KIIIα and stimulate its kinase activity. The absence of PI4KIIIα activity induced a dramatic change in the ultrastructural morphology of the membranous HCV replication complex. Our analysis suggests that the direct activation of a lipid kinase by HCV NS5A contributes critically to the integrity of the membranous viral replication complex.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) has infected around 160 million individuals. Current therapies have limited efficacy and are fraught with side effects. To identify cellular HCV dependency factors, possible therapeutic targets, we manipulated signaling cascades with pathway-specific inhibitors. Using this approach we identified the MAPK/ERK regulated, cytosolic, calcium-dependent, group IVA phospholipase A2 (PLA2G4A) as a novel HCV dependency factor. Inhibition of PLA2G4A activity reduced core protein abundance at lipid droplets, core envelopment and secretion of particles. Moreover, released particles displayed aberrant protein composition and were 100-fold less infectious. Exogenous addition of arachidonic acid, the cleavage product of PLA2G4A-catalyzed lipolysis, but not other related poly-unsaturated fatty acids restored infectivity. Strikingly, production of infectious Dengue virus, a relative of HCV, was also dependent on PLA2G4A. These results highlight previously unrecognized parallels in the assembly pathways of these human pathogens, and define PLA2G4A-dependent lipolysis as crucial prerequisite for production of highly infectious viral progeny.
The human genome encodes more than 30 phospholipase A2s. These enzymes cleave fatty acids at the C2 atom of phosphoglycerides and thus modulate membrane properties. Among all PLA2s only PLA2G4A, which is recruited to perinuclear membranes by Ca2+ and activated by extracellular stimuli via the mitogen activated protein kinase pathway, specifically cleaves lipids with arachidonic acid. Metabolism of arachidonic acid yields prostaglandins and leukotriens, important lipid mediators of inflammation. We show that inhibition of PLA2G4A produces aberrant HCV particles and that infectivity is rescued by addition of arachidonic acid. Our results suggest that a specific lipid (arachidonic acid) is essential for production of highly infectious HCV progeny, likely by creating a membrane environment conducive for efficient incorporation of crucial host and viral factors into the lipid envelope of nascent particles. Strikingly, PLA2G4A is also essential for production of highly infectious Dengue Virus (DENV) particles but not for vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV). These observations argue that HCV and DENV which unlike VSV produce particles at intracellular membranes usurp a common host factor (PLA2G4A) for assembly of highly infectious progeny. These findings open new perspectives for antiviral intervention and highlight thus far unrecognized parallels in the assembly pathway of HCV and DENV.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major cause of severe liver disease, and one major contributing factor is thought to involve a dysfunction of virus-specific T-cells. T-cell receptor (TCR) gene therapy with HCV-specific TCRs would increase the number of effector T-cells to promote virus clearance. We therefore took advantage of HLA-A2 transgenic mice to generate multiple TCR candidates against HCV using DNA vaccination followed by generation of stable T-cell–BW (T-BW) tumour hybrid cells. Using this approach, large numbers of non-structural protein 3 (NS3)-specific functional T-BW hybrids can be generated efficiently. These predominantly target the genetically stable HCV genotype 1 NS31073–1081 CTL epitope, frequently associated with clearance of HCV in humans. These T-BW hybrid clones recognized the NS31073 peptide with a high avidity. The hybridoma effectively recognized virus variants and targeted cells with low HLA-A2 expression, which has not been reported previously. Importantly, high-avidity murine TCRs effectively redirected human non-HCV-specific T-lymphocytes to recognize human hepatoma cells with HCV RNA replication driven by a subgenomic HCV replicon. Taken together, TCR candidates with a range of functional avidities, which can be used to study immune recognition of HCV-positive targets, have been generated. This has implications for TCR-related immunotherapy against HCV.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is an important human pathogen, persistently infecting more than 170 million individuals worldwide. Studies of the HCV life cycle have become possible with the development of cell culture systems supporting the replication of viral RNA and the production of infectious virus. However, the exact functions of individual proteins, especially of nonstructural protein 4B (NS4B), remain poorly understood. NS4B triggers the formation of specific, vesicular membrane rearrangements, referred to as membranous webs, which have been reported to represent sites of HCV RNA replication. However, the mechanism of vesicle induction is not known. In this study, a panel of 15 mutants carrying substitutions in the highly conserved NS4B C-terminal domain was generated. Five mutations had only a minor effect on replication, but two of them enhanced assembly and release of infectious virus. Ten mutants were replication defective and used for selection of pseudoreversions. Most of the pseudoreversions also localized to the highly conserved NS4B C-terminal domain and were found to restore replication competence upon insertion into the corresponding primary mutant. Importantly, pseudoreversions restoring replication competence also restored heterotypic NS4B self-interaction, which was disrupted by the primary mutation. Finally, electron microscopy analyses of membrane alterations induced by NS4B mutants revealed striking morphological abnormalities, which were restored to wild-type morphology by the corresponding pseudoreversion. These findings demonstrate the important role of the C-terminal domain in NS4B self-interaction and the formation of functional HCV replication complexes.
High-content, high-throughput RNA interference (RNAi) offers unprecedented possibilities to elucidate gene function and involvement in biological processes. Microscopy based screening allows phenotypic observations at the level of individual cells. It was recently shown that a cell's population context significantly influences results. However, standard analysis methods for cellular screens do not currently take individual cell data into account unless this is important for the phenotype of interest, i.e. when studying cell morphology.
We present a method that normalizes and statistically scores microscopy based RNAi screens, exploiting individual cell information of hundreds of cells per knockdown. Each cell's individual population context is employed in normalization. We present results on two infection screens for hepatitis C and dengue virus, both showing considerable effects on observed phenotypes due to population context. In addition, we show on a non-virus screen that these effects can be found also in RNAi data in the absence of any virus. Using our approach to normalize against these effects we achieve improved performance in comparison to an analysis without this normalization and hit scoring strategy. Furthermore, our approach results in the identification of considerably more significantly enriched pathways in hepatitis C virus replication than using a standard analysis approach.
Using a cell-based analysis and normalization for population context, we achieve improved sensitivity and specificity not only on a individual protein level, but especially also on a pathway level. This leads to the identification of new host dependency factors of the hepatitis C and dengue viruses and higher reproducibility of results.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotype 2a isolate JFH1 represents the only cloned HCV wild-type sequence capable of efficient replication in cell culture as well as in vivo. Previous reports have pointed to NS5B, the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), as a major determinant for efficient replication of this isolate. To understand the contribution of the JFH1 NS5B gene at the molecular level, we aimed at conferring JFH1 properties to NS5B from the closely related J6 isolate. We created intragenotypic chimeras in the NS5B regions of JFH1 and J6 and compared replication efficiency in cell culture and RdRp activity of the purified proteins in vitro, revealing more than three independent mechanisms conferring the role of JFH1 NS5B in efficient RNA replication. Most critical was residue I405 in the thumb domain of the polymerase, which strongly stimulated replication in cell culture by enhancing overall de novo RNA synthesis. A structural comparison of JFH1 and J6 at high resolution indicated a clear correlation of a closed-thumb conformation of the RdRp and the efficiency of the enzyme at de novo RNA synthesis, in accordance with the proposal that I405 enhances de novo initiation. In addition, we identified several residues enhancing replication independent of RdRp activity in vitro. The functional properties of JFH1 NS5B could be restored by a few single-nucleotide substitutions to the J6 isolate. Finally, we were able to enhance the replication efficiency of a genotype 1b isolate with the I405 mutation, indicating that this mechanism of action is conserved across genotypes.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) assembly remains a poorly understood process. Lipid droplets (LDs) are thought to act as platforms for the assembly of viral components. The JFH1 HCV strain replicates and assembles in association with LD-associated membranes, around which viral core protein is predominantly detected. In contrast, despite its intrinsic capacity to localize to LDs when expressed individually, we found that the core protein of the high-titer Jc1 recombinant virus was hardly detected on LDs of cell culture-grown HCV (HCVcc)-infected cells, but was mainly localized at endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membranes where it colocalized with the HCV envelope glycoproteins. Furthermore, high-titer cell culture-adapted JFH1 virus, obtained after long-term culture in Huh7.5 cells, exhibited an ER-localized core in contrast to non-adapted JFH1 virus, strengthening the hypothesis that ER localization of core is required for efficient HCV assembly. Our results further indicate that p7 and NS2 are HCV strain-specific factors that govern the recruitment of core protein from LDs to ER assembly sites. Indeed, using expression constructs and HCVcc recombinant genomes, we found that p7 is sufficient to induce core localization at the ER, independently of its ion-channel activity. Importantly, the combined expression of JFH1 or Jc1 p7 and NS2 induced the same differential core subcellular localization detected in JFH1- vs. Jc1-infected cells. Finally, results obtained by expressing p7-NS2 chimeras between either virus type indicated that compatibilities between the p7 and the first NS2 trans-membrane domains is required to induce core-ER localization and assembly of extra- and intra-cellular infectious viral particles. In conclusion, we identified p7 and NS2 as key determinants governing the subcellular localization of HCV core to LDs vs. ER and required for initiation of the early steps of virus assembly.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV), an enveloped virus that causes chronic liver infection, encodes a polyprotein that is translated and undergoes maturation by cleavage at the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). The assembly of the viral structural components, including core, the capsid protein, the E1/E2 envelope glycoproteins, and the vRNA is believed to occur at the ER, requiring a coordinated integration of cellular and viral pathways in which the HCV non-structural proteins play a major role. The cytosolic lipid droplets (LDs) induce concentration of core close to the ER-located assembly site and may provide a physical link with the vRNA replication site, also localized in specialized, ER-derived structures. Here, we analyzed the subcellular localization pattern of core protein in HCV-infected cells with a particular focus on core colocalization with E2 in the ER or with specific markers of the LDs. We show that the p7 and NS2 proteins are key viral determinants governing the cellular localization of HCV core to LDs vs. ER and are required for virus assembly. Our results also underscore a requirement for compatibilities between the p7 trans-membranes and the NS2 amino-terminus that dictates core-E2 colocalization in the ER, leading to initiation of virion assembly.
Non-structural protein 2 (NS2) plays an important role in hepatitis C virus (HCV) assembly, but neither the exact contribution of this protein to the assembly process nor its complete structure are known. In this study we used a combination of genetic, biochemical and structural methods to decipher the role of NS2 in infectious virus particle formation. A large panel of NS2 mutations targeting the N-terminal membrane binding region was generated. They were selected based on a membrane topology model that we established by determining the NMR structures of N-terminal NS2 transmembrane segments. Mutants affected in virion assembly, but not RNA replication, were selected for pseudoreversion in cell culture. Rescue mutations restoring virus assembly to various degrees emerged in E2, p7, NS3 and NS2 itself arguing for an interaction between these proteins. To confirm this assumption we developed a fully functional JFH1 genome expressing an N-terminally tagged NS2 demonstrating efficient pull-down of NS2 with p7, E2 and NS3 and, to a lower extent, NS5A. Several of the mutations blocking virus assembly disrupted some of these interactions that were restored to various degrees by those pseudoreversions that also restored assembly. Immunofluorescence analyses revealed a time-dependent NS2 colocalization with E2 at sites close to lipid droplets (LDs) together with NS3 and NS5A. Importantly, NS2 of a mutant defective in assembly abrogates NS2 colocalization around LDs with E2 and NS3, which is restored by a pseudoreversion in p7, whereas NS5A is recruited to LDs in an NS2-independent manner. In conclusion, our results suggest that NS2 orchestrates HCV particle formation by participation in multiple protein-protein interactions required for their recruitment to assembly sites in close proximity of LDs.
Formation of infectious virus particles (assembly) is a complex process by which structural proteins and the viral genome must be transferred to the same subcellular sites to allow their direct or indirect interaction. In case of the hepatitis C virus (HCV), this process appears to take place in close proximity of lipid droplets (LDs) and requires in addition to the structural proteins core, envelope glycoprotein 1 (E1) and E2 two auxiliary factors, designated p7 and nonstructural protein 2 (NS2), contributing to virion formation by unknown mechanisms. In this study we used a combination of structural, genetic and biochemical assays to study the role of NS2 in HCV assembly. By using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of NS2 peptides we established a membrane topology model of the amino-terminal membrane binding domain of NS2. We found that this protein participates in multiple interactions with E2, p7, NS3 and NS5A that appear to recruit the viral proteins to sites in close proximity of LDs. In this respect, NS2 is a key organizer of the assembly of infectious HCV particles.
Specific differences in signaling and antiviral properties between the different Lambda-interferons, a novel group of interferons composed of IL-28A, IL-28B and IL-29, are currently unknown. This is the first study comparatively investigating the transcriptome and the antiviral properties of the Lambda-interferons IL-28A and IL-29.
Expression studies were performed by microarray analysis, quantitative PCR (qPCR), reporter gene assays and immunoluminometric assays. Signaling was analyzed by Western blot. HCV replication was measured in Huh-7 cells expressing subgenomic HCV replicon. All hepatic cell lines investigated as well as primary hepatocytes expressed both IFN-λ receptor subunits IL-10R2 and IFN-λR1. Both, IL-28A and IL-29 activated STAT1 signaling. As revealed by microarray analysis, similar genes were induced by both cytokines in Huh-7 cells (IL-28A: 117 genes; IL-29: 111 genes), many of them playing a role in antiviral immunity. However, only IL-28A was able to significantly down-regulate gene expression (n = 272 down-regulated genes). Both cytokines significantly decreased HCV replication in Huh-7 cells. In comparison to liver biopsies of patients with non-viral liver disease, liver biopsies of patients with HCV showed significantly increased mRNA expression of IL-28A and IL-29. Moreover, IL-28A serum protein levels were elevated in HCV patients. In a murine model of viral hepatitis, IL-28 expression was significantly increased.
IL-28A and IL-29 are up-regulated in HCV patients and are similarly effective in inducing antiviral genes and inhibiting HCV replication. In contrast to IL-29, IL-28A is a potent gene repressor. Both IFN-λs may have therapeutic potential in the treatment of chronic HCV.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is an important human pathogen affecting 170 million chronically infected individuals. In search for cellular proteins involved in HCV replication, we have developed a purification strategy for viral replication complexes and identified annexin A2 (ANXA2) as an associated host factor. ANXA2 colocalized with viral nonstructural proteins in cells harboring genotype 1 or 2 replicons as well as in infected cells. In contrast, we found no obvious colocalization of ANXA2 with replication sites of other positive-strand RNA viruses. The silencing of ANXA2 expression showed no effect on viral RNA replication but resulted in a significant reduction of extra- and intracellular virus titers. Therefore, it seems likely that ANXA2 plays a role in HCV assembly rather than in genome replication or virion release. Colocalization studies with individually expressed HCV nonstructural proteins indicated that NS5A specifically recruits ANXA2, probably by an indirect mechanism. By the deletion of individual NS5A subdomains, we identified domain III (DIII) as being responsible for ANXA2 recruitment. These data identify ANXA2 as a novel host factor contributing, with NS5A, to the formation of infectious HCV particles.
DEB025/Debio 025 (Alisporivir) is a cyclophilin (Cyp)-binding molecule with potent anti-hepatitis C virus (HCV) activity both in vitro and in vivo. It is currently being evaluated in phase II clinical trials. DEB025 binds to CypA, a peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase which is a crucial cofactor for HCV replication. Here we report that it was very difficult to select resistant replicons (genotype 1b) to DEB025, requiring an average of 20 weeks (four independent experiments), compared to the typically <2 weeks with protease or polymerase inhibitors. This indicates a high genetic barrier to resistance for DEB025. Mutation D320E in NS5A was the only mutation consistently selected in the replicon genome. This mutation alone conferred a low-level (3.9-fold) resistance. Replacing the NS5A gene (but not the NS5B gene) from the wild type (WT) genome with the corresponding sequence from the DEB025res replicon resulted in transfer of resistance. Cross-resistance with cyclosporine A (CsA) was observed, whereas NS3 protease and NS5B polymerase inhibitors retained WT-activity against DEB025res replicons. Unlike WT, DEB025res replicon replicated efficiently in CypA knock down cells. However, DEB025 disrupted the interaction between CypA and NS5A regardless of whether the NS5A protein was derived from WT or DEB025res replicon. NMR titration experiments with peptides derived from the WT or the DEB025res domain II of NS5A corroborated this observation in a quantitative manner. Interestingly, comparative NMR studies on two 20-mer NS5A peptides that contain D320 or E320 revealed a shift in population between the major and minor conformers. These data suggest that D320E conferred low-level resistance to DEB025 probably by reducing the need for CypA-dependent isomerisation of NS5A. Prolonged DEB025 treatment and multiple genotypic changes may be necessary to generate significant resistance to DEB025, underlying the high barrier to resistance.
Since the advent of genome-wide small interfering RNA screening, large numbers of cellular cofactors important for viral infection have been discovered at a rapid pace, but the viral targets and the mechanism of action for many of these cofactors remain undefined. One such cofactor is cyclophilin A (CyPA), upon which hepatitis C virus (HCV) replication critically depends. Here we report a new genetic selection scheme that identified a major viral determinant of HCV's dependence on CyPA and susceptibility to cyclosporine A. We selected mutant viruses that were able to infect CyPA-knockdown cells which were refractory to infection by wild-type HCV produced in cell culture. Five independent selections revealed related mutations in a single dipeptide motif (D316 and Y317) located in a proline-rich region of NS5A domain II, which has been implicated in CyPA binding. Engineering the mutations into wild-type HCV fully recapitulated the CyPA-independent and CsA-resistant phenotype and four putative proline substrates of CyPA were mapped to the vicinity of the DY motif. Circular dichroism analysis of wild-type and mutant NS5A peptides indicated that the D316E/Y317N mutations (DEYN) induced a conformational change at a major CyPA-binding site. Furthermore, nuclear magnetic resonance experiments suggested that NS5A with DEYN mutations adopts a more extended, functional conformation in the putative CyPA substrate site in domain II. Finally, the importance of this major CsA-sensitivity determinant was confirmed in additional genotypes (GT) other than GT 2a. This study describes a new genetic approach to identifying viral targets of cellular cofactors and identifies a major regulator of HCV's susceptibility to CsA and its derivatives that are currently in clinical trials.
Identification of cellular cofactors and their mechanisms of action is a fundamental aspect of virus-host interaction research. Screening of genome-wide small interfering RNA libraries has become an efficient way of systematically discovering cellular cofactors essential for various aspects of viral life cycle. We and others have recently demonstrated that cyclophilin A (CyPA) is an essential cofactor for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and serves as the direct target of a new class of clinical anti-HCV compounds, cyclosporine A (CsA) and its derivatives, that are devoid of immunosuppressive function. Here we report the identification of a key regulator of HCV's dependence on CyPA and susceptibility to CsA using a novel genetic screening approach that can potentially be applied to additional cellular cofactors and other viruses. The effectiveness of this approach, termed cofactor-independent mutant (CoFIM) screening, was further supported by results obtained with a parallel CsA-based selection using additional genotypes of HCV. This paper reports a new technology with which we discover and characterize the major determinant of HCV's sensitivity to CyPA inhibitors, which are currently being tested in clinical trials.
Motivation: Detecting human proteins that are involved in virus entry and replication is facilitated by modern high-throughput RNAi screening technology. However, hit lists from different laboratories have shown only little consistency. This may be caused by not only experimental discrepancies, but also not fully explored possibilities of the data analysis. We wanted to improve reliability of such screens by combining a population analysis of infected cells with an established dye intensity readout.
Results: Viral infection is mainly spread by cell–cell contacts and clustering of infected cells can be observed during spreading of the infection in situ and in vivo. We employed this clustering feature to define knockdowns which harm viral infection efficiency of human Hepatitis C Virus. Images of knocked down cells for 719 human kinase genes were analyzed with an established point pattern analysis method (Ripley's K-function) to detect knockdowns in which virally infected cells did not show any clustering and therefore were hindered to spread their infection to their neighboring cells. The results were compared with a statistical analysis using a common intensity readout of the GFP-expressing viruses and a luciferase-based secondary screen yielding five promising host factors which may suit as potential targets for drug therapy.
Conclusion: We report of an alternative method for high-throughput imaging methods to detect host factors being relevant for the infection efficiency of viruses. The method is generic and has the potential to be used for a large variety of different viruses and treatments being screened by imaging techniques.
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Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection causes chronic liver diseases and is a global public health problem. Detailed analyses of HCV have been hampered by the lack of viral culture systems. Subgenomic replicons of the JFH1 genotype 2a strain cloned from an individual with fulminant hepatitis replicate efficiently in cell culture. Here we show that the JFH1 genome replicates efficiently and supports secretion of viral particles after transfection into a human hepatoma cell line (Huh7). Particles have a density of about 1.15–1.17 g/ml and a spherical morphology with an average diameter of about 55 nm. Secreted virus is infectious for Huh7 cells and infectivity can be neutralized by CD81-specific antibodies and by immunoglobulins from chronically infected individuals. The cell culture–generated HCV is infectious for chimpanzee. This system provides a powerful tool for studying the viral life cycle and developing antiviral strategies.
Recently, claudin-1 (CLDN1) was identified as a host protein essential for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. To evaluate CLDN1 function during virus entry, we searched for hepatocyte cell lines permissive for HCV RNA replication but with limiting endogenous CLDN1 expression, thus permitting receptor complementation assays. These criteria were met by the human hepatoblastoma cell line HuH6, which (i) displays low endogenous CLDN1 levels, (ii) efficiently replicates HCV RNA, and (iii) produces HCV particles with properties similar to those of particles generated in Huh-7.5 cells. Importantly, naïve cells are resistant to HCV genotype 2a infection unless CLDN1 is expressed. Interestingly, complementation of HCV entry by human, rat, or hamster CLDN1 was highly efficient, while mouse CLDN1 (mCLDN1) supported HCV genotype 2a infection with only moderate efficiency. These differences were observed irrespective of whether cells were infected with HCV pseudoparticles (HCVpp) or cell culture-derived HCV (HCVcc). Comparatively low entry function of mCLDN1 was observed in HuH6 but not 293T cells, suggesting that species-specific usage of CLDN1 is cell type dependent. Moreover, it was linked to three mouse-specific residues in the second extracellular loop (L152, I155) and the fourth transmembrane helix (V180) of the protein. These determinants could modulate the exposure or affinity of a putative viral binding site on CLDN1 or prevent optimal interaction of CLDN1 with other human cofactors, thus precluding highly efficient infection. HuH6 cells represent a valuable model for analysis of the complete HCV replication cycle in vitro and in particular for analysis of CLDN1 function in HCV cell entry.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) p7 is an integral membrane protein that forms ion channels in vitro and that is crucial for the efficient assembly and release of infectious virions. Due to these properties, p7 was included in the family of viroporins that comprises proteins like influenza A virus M2 and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) vpu, which alter membrane permeability and facilitate the release of infectious viruses. p7 from different HCV isolates sustains virus production with variable efficiency. Moreover, p7 determinants modulate processing at the E2/p7 and the p7/NS2 signal peptidase cleavage sites, and E2/p7 cleavage is incomplete. Consequently, it was unclear if a differential ability to sustain virus production was due to variable ion channel activity or due to alternate processing at these sites. Therefore, we developed a trans-complementation assay permitting the analysis of p7 outside of the HCV polyprotein and thus independently of processing. The rescue of p7-defective HCV genomes was accomplished by providing E2, p7, and NS2, or, in some cases, by p7 alone both in a transient complementation assay as well as in stable cell lines. In contrast, neither influenza A virus M2 nor HIV-1 vpu compensated for defective p7 in HCV morphogenesis. Thus, p7 is absolutely essential for the production of infectious HCV particles. Moreover, our data indicate that p7 can operate independently of an upstream signal sequence, and that a tyrosine residue close to the conserved dibasic motif of p7 is important for optimal virus production in the context of genotype 2a viruses. The experimental system described here should be helpful to investigate further key determinants of p7 that are essential for its structure and function in the absence of secondary effects caused by altered polyprotein processing.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a positive-strand RNA virus replicating its genome via a negative-strand [(−)] intermediate. Little is known about replication signals residing in the 3′ end of HCV (−) RNA. Recent studies identified seven stem-loop structures (SL-I′, -IIz′, -IIy′, -IIIa′, -IIIb′, -IIIcdef′, and -IV′) in this region. In the present study, we mapped the minimal region required for RNA replication to SL-I′ and -IIz′, functionally confirmed the SL-IIz′ structure, and identified SL-IIIa′ to -IV′ as auxiliary replication elements. In addition, we show that the 5′ nontranslated region of the genome most likely does not contain cis-acting RNA structures required for RNA packaging into infectious virions.
Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites and therefore their replication completely depends on host cell factors. In case of the hepatitis C virus (HCV), a positive-strand RNA virus that in the majority of infections establishes persistence, cyclophilins are considered to play an important role in RNA replication. Subsequent to the observation that cyclosporines, known to sequester cyclophilins by direct binding, profoundly block HCV replication in cultured human hepatoma cells, conflicting results were obtained as to the particular cyclophilin (Cyp) required for viral RNA replication and the underlying possible mode of action. By using a set of cell lines with stable knock-down of CypA or CypB, we demonstrate in the present work that replication of subgenomic HCV replicons of different genotypes is reduced by CypA depletion up to 1,000-fold whereas knock-down of CypB had no effect. Inhibition of replication was rescued by over-expression of wild type CypA, but not by a mutant lacking isomerase activity. Replication of JFH1-derived full length genomes was even more sensitive to CypA depletion as compared to subgenomic replicons and virus production was completely blocked. These results argue that CypA may target an additional viral factor outside of the minimal replicase contributing to RNA amplification and assembly, presumably nonstructural protein 2. By selecting for resistance against the cyclosporine analogue DEBIO-025 that targets CypA in a dose-dependent manner, we identified two mutations (V2440A and V2440L) close to the cleavage site between nonstructural protein 5A and the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase in nonstructural protein 5B that slow down cleavage kinetics at this site and reduce CypA dependence of viral replication. Further amino acid substitutions at the same cleavage site accelerating processing increase CypA dependence. Our results thus identify an unexpected correlation between HCV polyprotein processing and CypA dependence of HCV replication.
Owing to limited genetic information, viruses have to exploit host cells to achieve efficient production of virus progeny. Host cell factors and pathways therefore play an important role for virus replication and thus represent a possible target for antiviral therapy. In case of the hepatitis C virus (HCV), an RNA virus infecting liver cells and causing chronic liver disease, host cell cyclophilins were shown to play an important role in replication. Pharmacological inhibition of cyclophilins, which are catalysts of protein folding, causes profound inhibition of HCV replication, but neither the underlying mechanism by which cyclophilins contribute to viral replication, nor the exact nature of the cyclophilin are known. In this study we demonstrate that HCV replication and presumably also virus particle assembly requires cyclophilin A (CypA), which can be blocked by the cyclosporine analogue DEBIO-025. We identify mutations affecting proteolytic cleavage of the viral polyprotein that render HCV replication less dependent on CypA and thus cause DEBIO-025 resistance. Studies with additional mutants reveal a correlation between polyprotein cleavage kinetics and CypA dependence. Our results support a model by which CypA activates the viral replicase in a manner that depends on the kinetics with which the viral polyprotein is cleaved.
With the advent of subgenomic hepatitis C virus (HCV) replicons, studies of the intracellular steps of the viral replication cycle became possible. These RNAs are capable of self-amplification in cultured human hepatoma cells, but save for the genotype 2a isolate JFH-1, efficient replication of these HCV RNAs requires replication enhancing mutations (REMs), previously also called cell culture adaptive mutations. These mutations cluster primarily in the central region of non-structural protein 5A (NS5A), but may also reside in the NS3 helicase domain or at a distinct position in NS4B. Most efficient replication has been achieved by combining REMs residing in NS3 with distinct REMs located in NS4B or NS5A. However, in spite of efficient replication of HCV genomes containing such mutations, they do not support production of infectious virus particles. By using the genotype 1b isolate Con1, in this study we show that REMs interfere with HCV assembly. Strongest impairment of virus formation was found with REMs located in the NS3 helicase (E1202G and T1280I) as well as NS5A (S2204R), whereas a highly adaptive REM in NS4B still allowed virus production although relative levels of core release were also reduced. We also show that cells transfected with the Con1 wild type genome or the genome containing the REM in NS4B release HCV particles that are infectious both in cell culture and in vivo. Our data provide an explanation for the in vitro and in vivo attenuation of cell culture adapted HCV genomes and may open new avenues for the development of fully competent culture systems covering the therapeutically most relevant HCV genotypes.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major cause of acute and chronic liver disease. Unusual for a positive strand RNA virus, HCV has the high propensity to establish persistent infection, which increases the risk for liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. No selective therapy is available thus far and its development has been hampered by the lack of adequate cell culture systems. With the advent of subgenomic replicons, i.e. RNAs containing only the viral replicase genes and that self-amplify in the human liver cell line Huh-7, this hurdle has been overcome to some extent. However, save for a single genotype 2a isolate, efficient replication of all HCV isolates described thus far requires replication enhancing mutations (REMs), but genomes with REMs do not support production of infectious virus particles. In this study we show that except for one mutation in non-structural protein 4B, REMs interfere with the assembly of infectious virus particles, whereas an unaltered HCV genome supports production of cell culture–derived virus that is infectious in vitro and in vivo. Our observations provide an explanation for the attenuation of cell culture adapted HCV genomes and open new perspectives for the development of culture systems for difficult to treat HCV genotypes.
Four conserved RNA stem-loop structures designated SL47, SL87, SL248, and SL443 have been predicted in the hepatitis C virus (HCV) core encoding region. Moreover, alternative translation products have been detected from a reading frame overlapping the core gene (core+1/ARFP/F). To study the importance of the core+1 frame and core-RNA structures for HCV replication in cell culture and in vivo, a panel of core gene silent mutations predicted to abolish core+1 translation and affecting core-RNA stem-loops were introduced into infectious-HCV genomes of the isolate JFH1. A mutation disrupting translation of all known forms of core+1 and affecting SL248 did not alter virus production in Huh7 cells and in mice xenografted with human liver tissue. However, a combination of mutations affecting core+1 at multiple codons and at the same time, SL47, SL87, and SL248, delayed RNA replication kinetics and substantially reduced virus titers. The in vivo infectivity of this mutant was impaired, and in virus genomes recovered from inoculated mice, SL87 was restored by reversion and pseudoreversion. Mutations disrupting the integrity of this stem-loop, as well as that of SL47, were detrimental for virus viability, whereas mutations disrupting SL248 and SL443 had no effect. This phenotype was not due to impaired RNA stability but to reduced RNA translation. Thus, SL47 and SL87 are important RNA elements contributing to HCV genome translation and robust replication in cell culture and in vivo.
We report here a comparative study of the anti-hepatitis C virus (HCV) activities of selected (i) nucleoside polymerase, (ii) nonnucleoside polymerase, (iii) α,γ-diketo acid polymerase, (iv) NS3 protease, and (v) helicase inhibitors, as well as (vi) cyclophilin binding molecules and (vii) alpha 2b interferon in four different HCV genotype 1b replicon systems.
There is an association between expression of the MHC class I molecule HLA-B27 and protection following human infection with either HIV or HCV. In both cases, protection has been linked to HLA-B27 presentation of a single immunodominant viral peptide epitope to CD8+ T cells. If HIV mutates the HLA-B27–binding anchor of this epitope to escape the protective immune response, the result is a less-fit virus that requires additional compensatory clustered mutations. Here, we sought to determine whether the immunodominant HLA-B27–restricted HCV epitope was similarly constrained by analyzing the replication competence and immunogenicity of different escape mutants. Interestingly, in most HLA-B27–positive patients chronically infected with HCV, the escape mutations spared the HLA-B27–binding anchor. Instead, the escape mutations were clustered at other sites within the epitope and had only a modest impact on replication competence. Further analysis revealed that the cluster of mutations is required for efficient escape because a combination of mutations is needed to impair T cell recognition of the epitope. Artificially introduced mutations at the HLA-B27–binding anchors were found to be either completely cross-reactive or to lead to substantial loss of fitness. These results suggest that protection by HLA-B27 in HCV infection can be explained by the requirement to accumulate a cluster of mutations within the immunodominant epitope to escape T cell recognition.
The density of circulating hepatitis C virus (HCV) particles in the blood of chronically infected patients is very heterogeneous. The very low density of some particles has been attributed to an association of the virus with apolipoprotein B (apoB) positive and triglyceride rich lipoproteins (TRL) likely resulting in hybrid lipoproteins known as lipo-viro-particles (LVP) containing the viral envelope glycoproteins E1 and E2, capsid and viral RNA. The specific infectivity of these particles has been shown to be higher than the infectivity of particles of higher density. The nature of the association of HCV particles with lipoproteins remains elusive and the role of apolipoproteins in the synthesis and assembly of the viral particles is unknown. The human intestinal Caco-2 cell line differentiates in vitro into polarized and apoB secreting cells during asymmetric culture on porous filters. By using this cell culture system, cells stably expressing E1 and E2 secreted the glycoproteins into the basal culture medium after one week of differentiation concomitantly with TRL secretion. Secreted glycoproteins were only detected in apoB containing density fractions. The E1–E2 and apoB containing particles were unique complexes bearing the envelope glycoproteins at their surface since apoB could be co-immunoprecipitated with E2-specific antibodies. Envelope protein secretion was reduced by inhibiting the lipidation of apoB with an inhibitor of the microsomal triglyceride transfer protein. HCV glycoproteins were similarly secreted in association with TRL from the human liver cell line HepG2 but not by Huh-7 and Huh-7.5 hepatoma cells that proved deficient for lipoprotein assembly. These data indicate that HCV envelope glycoproteins have the intrinsic capacity to utilize apoB synthesis and lipoprotein assembly machinery even in the absence of the other HCV proteins. A model for LVP assembly is proposed.