Dengue virus (DENV) is an important human pathogen, especially in the tropical and subtropical parts of the world, causing considerable morbidity and mortality. DENV replication occurs in the cytoplasm; however, a high proportion of nonstructural protein 5 (NS5), containing methyltransferase (MTase) and RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) activities, accumulates in the nuclei of infected cells. The present study investigates the impact of nuclear localization of NS5 on its known functions, including viral RNA replication and subversion of the type I interferon response. By using a mutation analysis approach, we identified the most critical residues within the αβ nuclear localization signal (αβNLS), which are essential for the nuclear accumulation of this protein. Although we observed an overall correlation between reduced nuclear accumulation of NS5 and impaired RNA replication, we identified one mutant with drastically reduced amounts of nuclear NS5 and virtually unaffected RNA replication, arguing that nuclear localization of NS5 does not correlate strictly with DENV replication, at least in cell culture. Because NS5 plays an important role in blocking interferon signaling via STAT-2 (signal transducer and activator of transcription 2) degradation, the abilities of the NLS mutants to block this pathway were investigated. All mutants were able to degrade STAT-2, with accordingly similar type I interferon resistance phenotypes. Since the NLS is contained within the RdRp domain, the MTase and RdRp activities of the mutants were determined by using recombinant full-length NS5. We found that the C-terminal region of the αβNLS is a critical functional element of the RdRp domain required for polymerase activity. These results indicate that efficient DENV RNA replication requires only minimal, if any, nuclear NS5, and they identify the αβNLS as a structural element required for proper RdRp activity.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection develops into chronicity in 80% of all patients, characterized by persistent low-level replication. To understand how the virus establishes its tightly controlled intracellular RNA replication cycle, we developed the first detailed mathematical model of the initial dynamic phase of the intracellular HCV RNA replication. We therefore quantitatively measured viral RNA and protein translation upon synchronous delivery of viral genomes to host cells, and thoroughly validated the model using additional, independent experiments. Model analysis was used to predict the efficacy of different classes of inhibitors and identified sensitive substeps of replication that could be targeted by current and future therapeutics. A protective replication compartment proved to be essential for sustained RNA replication, balancing translation versus replication and thus effectively limiting RNA amplification. The model predicts that host factors involved in the formation of this compartment determine cellular permissiveness to HCV replication. In gene expression profiling, we identified several key processes potentially determining cellular HCV replication efficiency.
Hepatitis C is a severe disease and a prime cause for liver transplantation. Up to 3% of the world's population are chronically infected with its causative agent, the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). This capacity to establish long (decades) lasting persistent infection sets HCV apart from other plus-strand RNA viruses typically causing acute, self-limiting infections. A prerequisite for its capacity to persist is HCV's complex and tightly regulated intracellular replication strategy. In this study, we therefore wanted to develop a comprehensive understanding of the molecular processes governing HCV RNA replication in order to pinpoint the most vulnerable substeps in the viral life cycle. For that purpose, we used a combination of biological experiments and mathematical modeling. Using the model to study HCV's replication strategy, we recognized diverse but crucial roles for the membraneous replication compartment of HCV in regulating RNA amplification. We further predict the existence of an essential limiting host factor (or function) required for establishing active RNA replication and thereby determining cellular permissiveness for HCV. Our model also proved valuable to understand and predict the effects of pharmacological inhibitors of HCV and might be a solid basis for the development of similar models for other plus-strand RNA viruses.
Influenza A NS1 and NS2 proteins are encoded by the RNA segment 8 of the viral genome. NS1 is a multifunctional protein and a virulence factor while NS2 is involved in nuclear export of viral ribonucleoprotein complexes. A yeast two-hybrid screening strategy was used to identify host factors supporting NS1 and NS2 functions. More than 560 interactions between 79 cellular proteins and NS1 and NS2 proteins from 9 different influenza virus strains have been identified. These interacting proteins are potentially involved in each step of the infectious process and their contribution to viral replication was tested by RNA interference. Validation of the relevance of these host cell proteins for the viral replication cycle revealed that 7 of the 79 NS1 and/or NS2-interacting proteins positively or negatively controlled virus replication. One of the main factors targeted by NS1 of all virus strains was double-stranded RNA binding domain protein family. In particular, adenosine deaminase acting on RNA 1 (ADAR1) appeared as a pro-viral host factor whose expression is necessary for optimal viral protein synthesis and replication. Surprisingly, ADAR1 also appeared as a pro-viral host factor for dengue virus replication and directly interacted with the viral NS3 protein. ADAR1 editing activity was enhanced by both viruses through dengue virus NS3 and influenza virus NS1 proteins, suggesting a similar virus-host co-evolution.
Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites that rely on cellular functions for efficient replication. As most biological processes are sustained by protein-protein interactions, the identification of interactions between viral and host proteins can provide a global overview about the cellular functions engaged during viral replication. Influenza viruses express 13 viral proteins, including NS1 and NS2, which are translated from an alternatively spliced RNA derived from the same genome segment. We present here a comprehensive overview of possible interactions of cellular proteins with NS1 and NS2 from 9 viral strains. Seventy nine cellular proteins were identified to interact with NS1, NS2 or both NS1 and NS2. These interacting host cell proteins are potentially involved in many steps of the virus life cycle and 7 can directly control the viral replication. Most of the cellular targets are shared by the majority of the virus strains, especially the double-stranded RNA binding domain protein family that is strikingly targeted by NS1. One of its members, ADAR1, is essential for influenza virus replication. ADAR1 colocalizes with NS1 in nuclear structures and its editing activity is enhanced by NS1 expressed on its own and during virus infection. A similar phenomenon is observed for dengue virus whose NS3 protein also interacts with ADAR1, suggesting a parallel virus-host co-evolution.
Dengue viruses (DENV) infect 50 to 100 million people worldwide per year, of which 500,000 develop severe life-threatening disease. This mosquito-borne illness is endemic in most tropical and subtropical countries and has spread significantly over the last decade. While there are several promising vaccine candidates in clinical trials, there are currently no approved vaccines or therapeutics available for treatment of dengue infection. Here, we describe a novel small-molecule compound, ST-148, that is a potent inhibitor of all four serotypes of DENV in vitro. ST-148 significantly reduced viremia and viral load in vital organs and tended to lower cytokine levels in the plasma in a nonlethal model of DENV infection in AG129 mice. Compound resistance mapped to the DENV capsid (C) gene, and a direct interaction of ST-148 with C protein is suggested by alterations of the intrinsic fluorescence of the protein in the presence of compound. Thus, ST-148 appears to interact with the DENV C protein and inhibits a distinct step(s) of the viral replication cycle.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is among the most relevant causes of liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Research is complicated by a lack of accessible small animal models. The systematic investigation of viruses of small mammals could guide efforts to establish such models, while providing insight into viral evolutionary biology. We have assembled the so-far largest collection of small-mammal samples from around the world, qualified to be screened for bloodborne viruses, including sera and organs from 4,770 rodents (41 species); and sera from 2,939 bats (51 species). Three highly divergent rodent hepacivirus clades were detected in 27 (1.8%) of 1,465 European bank voles (Myodes glareolus) and 10 (1.9%) of 518 South African four-striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio). Bats showed anti-HCV immunoblot reactivities but no virus detection, although the genetic relatedness suggested by the serologic results should have enabled RNA detection using the broadly reactive PCR assays developed for this study. 210 horses and 858 cats and dogs were tested, yielding further horse-associated hepaciviruses but none in dogs or cats. The rodent viruses were equidistant to HCV, exceeding by far the diversity of HCV and the canine/equine hepaciviruses taken together. Five full genomes were sequenced, representing all viral lineages. Salient genome features and distance criteria supported classification of all viruses as hepaciviruses. Quantitative RT-PCR, RNA in-situ hybridisation, and histopathology suggested hepatic tropism with liver inflammation resembling hepatitis C. Recombinant serology for two distinct hepacivirus lineages in 97 bank voles identified seroprevalence rates of 8.3 and 12.4%, respectively. Antibodies in bank vole sera neither cross-reacted with HCV, nor the heterologous bank vole hepacivirus. Co-occurrence of RNA and antibodies was found in 3 of 57 PCR-positive bank vole sera (5.3%). Our data enable new hypotheses regarding HCV evolution and encourage efforts to develop rodent surrogate models for HCV.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is one of the most relevant causes of liver disease and cancer in humans. The lack of a small animal models represents an important hurdle on our way to understanding, treating, and preventing hepatitis C. The investigation of small mammals could identify virus infections similar to hepatitis C in animals that can be kept in laboratories, such as rodents, and can also yield insights into the evolution of those ancestral virus lineages out of which HCV developed. Here, we investigated a worldwide sample of 4,770 rodents, 2,939 bats, 210 horses and 858 cats and dogs for HCV-related viruses. New viruses were discovered in European bank voles (Myodes glareolus) and South African four-striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio). The disease in bank voles was studied in more detail, suggesting that infection of the liver occurs with similar symptoms to those caused by HCV in humans. These rodents might thus enable the development of new laboratory models of hepatitis C. Moreover, the phylogenetic history of those viruses provides fascinating new ideas regarding the evolution of HCV ancestors.
The lipid kinase phosphatidylinositol 4-kinase III alpha (PI4KIIIα) is an essential host factor of hepatitis C virus (HCV) replication. PI4KIIIα catalyzes the synthesis of phosphatidylinositol 4-phosphate (PI4P) accumulating in HCV replicating cells due to enzyme activation resulting from its interaction with nonstructural protein 5A (NS5A). This study describes the interaction between PI4KIIIα and NS5A and its mechanistic role in viral RNA replication. We mapped the NS5A sequence involved in PI4KIIIα interaction to the carboxyterminal end of domain 1 and identified a highly conserved PI4KIIIα functional interaction site (PFIS) encompassing seven amino acids, which are essential for viral RNA replication. Mutations within this region were also impaired in NS5A-PI4KIIIα binding, reduced PI4P levels and altered the morphology of viral replication sites, reminiscent to the phenotype observed by silencing of PI4KIIIα. Interestingly, abrogation of RNA replication caused by mutations in the PFIS correlated with increased levels of hyperphosphorylated NS5A (p58), indicating that PI4KIIIα affects the phosphorylation status of NS5A. RNAi-mediated knockdown of PI4KIIIα or pharmacological ablation of kinase activity led to a relative increase of p58. In contrast, overexpression of enzymatically active PI4KIIIα increased relative abundance of basally phosphorylated NS5A (p56). PI4KIIIα therefore regulates the phosphorylation status of NS5A and viral RNA replication by favoring p56 or repressing p58 synthesis. Replication deficiencies of PFIS mutants in NS5A could not be rescued by increasing PI4P levels, but by supplying functional NS5A, supporting an essential role of PI4KIIIα in HCV replication regulating NS5A phosphorylation, thereby modulating the morphology of viral replication sites. In conclusion, we demonstrate that PI4KIIIα activity affects the NS5A phosphorylation status. Our results highlight the importance of PI4KIIIα in the morphogenesis of viral replication sites and its regulation by facilitating p56 synthesis.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections affect about 170 million people worldwide and often result in severe chronic liver disease. HCV is a positive-strand RNA virus inducing massive rearrangements of intracellular membranes to generate the sites of genome replication, designated the membranous web. The complex biogenesis of the membranous web is still poorly understood, but requires the concerted action of several viral nonstructural proteins and cellular factors. Recently, we and others identified the lipid kinase phosphatidylinositol-4 kinase III alpha (PI4KIIIα), catalyzing the synthesis of phosphatidylinositol 4-phosphate (PI4P), as an essential host factor involved in the formation of the membranous web. In this study, we characterized the virus-host interaction in greater detail using a genetic approach. We identified a highly conserved region in the viral phosphoprotein NS5A crucial for the interaction with PI4KIIIα. Surprisingly, we found that PI4KIIIα, despite being a lipid kinase, appeared to regulate the phosphorylation status of NS5A, thus contributing to viral replication. Our results furthermore suggest that the morphology of the membranous web is regulated by NS5A phosphorylation, providing novel insights into the complex regulation of viral RNA replication.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a human hepatotropic virus, but the relevant host factors restricting HCV infection to hepatocytes are only partially understood. We demonstrate that exogenous expression of defined host factors reconstituted the entire HCV life cycle in human nonhepatic 293T cells. This study shows robust HCV entry, RNA replication, and production of infectious virus in human nonhepatic cells and highlights key host factors required for liver tropism of HCV.
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.