For Hepatitis C virus (HCV), initiation of translation is cap-independently mediated by its internal ribosome entry site (IRES). Unlike other IRES-containing viruses that shut off host cap-dependent translation, translation of HCV coexists with that of the host. How HCV IRES-mediated translation is regulated in the infected cells remains unclear. Here, we show that the intracellular level of 40S ribosomal subunit plays a key role in facilitating HCV translation over host translation. In a loss-of-function screen, we identified small subunit ribosomal protein 6 (RPS6) as an indispensable host factor for HCV propagation. Knockdown of RPS6 selectively repressed HCV IRES-mediated translation, but not general translation. Such preferential suppression of HCV translation correlated well with the reduction of the abundance of 40S ribosomal subunit following knockdown of RPS6 or other RPS genes. In contrast, reduction of the amount of ribosomal proteins of the 60S subunit did not produce similar effects. Among the components of general translation machineries, only knockdowns of RPS genes caused inhibitory effects on HCV translation, pointing out the unique role of 40S subunit abundance in HCV translation. This work demonstrates an unconventional notion that the translation initiation of HCV and host possess different susceptibility toward reduction of 40S ribosomal subunit, and provides a model of selective modulation of IRES-mediated translation through manipulating the level of 40S subunit.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection causes chronic liver diseases that threaten ∼2% of the world population. There is no effective vaccine, and the current standard therapy, the combination of interferon and ribavirin, is effective to less than 50% of genotype-1 infected patients. While antivirals targeting at specific HCV proteins might ultimately lose their effectiveness due to the emergence of resistance-associated mutations, an alternative strategy that explores the genetic stability of host factors indispensable for HCV replication may provide better therapeutic targets for anti-HCV medicine. Here, we employed a loss-of-function screen method to identify such potential targets and uncovered a potential novel anti-HCV mechanism by manipulating the biogenesis of 40S ribosomal subunit. We showed that inhibiting 40S ribosome biogenesis can selectively suppress HCV translation and thus effectively inhibit HCV replication. In contrast to the conventional thinking, the 40S ribosomal subunit can differentially affect different translational modes, and HCV translation is more sensitive to the amounts of 40S ribosomal subunit as compared to general translation in host cell. Since HCV is known to evade anti-viral effects including translational suppression elicited by interferon, our findings may help design a therapeutic strategy to supplement interferon-based therapy and minimize mutation-associated drug resistance problem.