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1.  The Combination of Alisporivir plus an NS5A Inhibitor Provides Additive to Synergistic Anti-Hepatitis C Virus Activity without Detectable Cross-Resistance 
Alisporivir (ALV), a cyclophilin inhibitor, is a host-targeting antiviral (HTA) with multigenotypic anti-hepatitis C virus (HCV) activity and a high barrier to resistance. Recent advances have supported the concept of interferon (IFN)-free regimens to treat chronic hepatitis C. As the most advanced oral HTA, ALV with direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) represents an attractive drug combination for IFN-free therapy. In this study, we investigated whether particular DAAs exhibit additive, synergistic, or antagonistic effects when combined with ALV. Drug combinations of ALV with NS3 protease, NS5B polymerase, and NS5A inhibitors were investigated in HCV replicons from genotypes 1a, 1b, 2a, 3, and 4a (GT1a to -4a). Combinations of ALV with DAAs exerted an additive effect on GT1 and -4. A significant and specific synergistic effect was observed with ALV-NS5A inhibitor combination on GT2 and -3. Furthermore, ALV was fully active against DAA-resistant variants, and ALV-resistant variants were fully susceptible to DAAs. ALV blocks the contact between cyclophilin A and domain II of NS5A, and NS5A inhibitors target domain I of NS5A; our data suggest a molecular basis for the use of these two classes of inhibitors acting on two distinct domains of NS5A. These results provide in vitro evidence that ALV with NS5A inhibitor combination represents an attractive strategy and a potentially effective IFN-free regimen for treatment of patients with chronic hepatitis C. Due to its high barrier and lack of cross-resistance, ALV could be a cornerstone drug partner for DAAs.
PMCID: PMC4068438  PMID: 24687498
2.  Inhibition of Hepatitis C Virus Replication by GS-6620, a Potent C-Nucleoside Monophosphate Prodrug 
As a class, nucleotide inhibitors (NIs) of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) nonstructural protein 5B (NS5B) RNA-dependent RNA polymerase offer advantages over other direct-acting antivirals, including properties, such as pangenotype activity, a high barrier to resistance, and reduced potential for drug-drug interactions. We studied the in vitro pharmacology of a novel C-nucleoside adenosine analog monophosphate prodrug, GS-6620. It was found to be a potent and selective HCV inhibitor against HCV replicons of genotypes 1 to 6 and against an infectious genotype 2a virus (50% effective concentration [EC50], 0.048 to 0.68 μM). GS-6620 showed limited activities against other viruses, maintaining only some of its activity against the closely related bovine viral diarrhea virus (EC50, 1.5 μM). The active 5′-triphosphate metabolite of GS-6620 is a chain terminator of viral RNA synthesis and a competitive inhibitor of NS5B-catalyzed ATP incorporation, with Ki/Km values of 0.23 and 0.18 for HCV NS5B genotypes 1b and 2a, respectively. With its unique dual substitutions of 1′-CN and 2′-C-Me on the ribose ring, the active triphosphate metabolite was found to have enhanced selectivity for the HCV NS5B polymerase over host RNA polymerases. GS-6620 demonstrated a high barrier to resistance in vitro. Prolonged passaging resulted in the selection of the S282T mutation in NS5B that was found to be resistant in both cellular and enzymatic assays (>30-fold). Consistent with its in vitro profile, GS-6620 exhibited the potential for potent anti-HCV activity in a proof-of-concept clinical trial, but its utility was limited by the requirement of high dose levels and pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic variability.
PMCID: PMC4023746  PMID: 24419349
3.  A Quantitative High-Resolution Genetic Profile Rapidly Identifies Sequence Determinants of Hepatitis C Viral Fitness and Drug Sensitivity 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(4):e1004064.
Widely used chemical genetic screens have greatly facilitated the identification of many antiviral agents. However, the regions of interaction and inhibitory mechanisms of many therapeutic candidates have yet to be elucidated. Previous chemical screens identified Daclatasvir (BMS-790052) as a potent nonstructural protein 5A (NS5A) inhibitor for Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection with an unclear inhibitory mechanism. Here we have developed a quantitative high-resolution genetic (qHRG) approach to systematically map the drug-protein interactions between Daclatasvir and NS5A and profile genetic barriers to Daclatasvir resistance. We implemented saturation mutagenesis in combination with next-generation sequencing technology to systematically quantify the effect of every possible amino acid substitution in the drug-targeted region (domain IA of NS5A) on replication fitness and sensitivity to Daclatasvir. This enabled determination of the residues governing drug-protein interactions. The relative fitness and drug sensitivity profiles also provide a comprehensive reference of the genetic barriers for all possible single amino acid changes during viral evolution, which we utilized to predict clinical outcomes using mathematical models. We envision that this high-resolution profiling methodology will be useful for next-generation drug development to select drugs with higher fitness costs to resistance, and also for informing the rational use of drugs based on viral variant spectra from patients.
Author Summary
The emergence of drug resistance during antiviral treatment limits treatment options and poses challenges to pharmaceutical development. Meanwhile, the search for novel antiviral compounds with chemical genetic screens has led to the identification of antiviral agents with undefined drug mechanisms. Daclatasvir, an effective NS5A inhibitor, is one such example. In traditional methods to identify critical residues governing drug-protein interactions, wild type virus is passaged under drug treatment pressure, enabling the identification of resistant mutations evolved after multiple viral passages. However, this method only characterizes a fraction of the positively selected variants. Here we have simultaneously quantified the relative change in replication fitness as well as the relative sensitivity to Daclatasvir for all possible single amino acid mutations in the NS5A domain IA, thereby identifying the entire panel of positions that interact with the drug. Using mathematical models, we predicted which mutations pose the greatest risk of causing emergence of resistance under different scenarios of treatment compliance. The mutant fitness and drug-sensitivity profiles obtained can also inform the patient-specific use of Daclatasvir and may facilitate the development of second-generation drugs with a higher genetic barrier to resistance.
PMCID: PMC3983061  PMID: 24722365
4.  A Small-Molecule Inhibitor of Hepatitis C Virus Infectivity 
One of the most challenging goals of hepatitis C virus (HCV) research is to develop well-tolerated regimens with high cure rates across a variety of patient populations. Such a regimen will likely require a combination of at least two distinct direct-acting antivirals (DAAs). Combining two or more DAAs with different resistance profiles increases the number of mutations required for viral breakthrough. Currently, most DAAs inhibit HCV replication. We recently reported that the combination of two distinct classes of HCV inhibitors, entry inhibitors and replication inhibitors, prolonged reductions in extracellular HCV in persistently infected cells. We therefore sought to identify new inhibitors targeting aspects of the HCV replication cycle other than RNA replication. We report here the discovery of the first small-molecule HCV infectivity inhibitor, GS-563253, also called HCV infectivity inhibitor 1 (HCV II-1). HCV II-1 is a substituted tetrahydroquinoline that selectively inhibits genotype 1 and 2 HCVs with low-nanomolar 50% effective concentrations. It was identified through a high-throughput screen and subsequent chemical optimization. HCV II-1 only permits the production and release of noninfectious HCV particles from cells. Moreover, infectious HCV is rapidly inactivated in its presence. HCV II-1 resistance mutations map to HCV E2. In addition, HCV-II prevents HCV endosomal fusion, suggesting that it either locks the viral envelope in its prefusion state or promotes a viral envelope conformation change incapable of fusion. Importantly, the discovery of HCV II-1 opens up a new class of HCV inhibitors that prolong viral suppression by HCV replication inhibitors in persistently infected cell cultures.
PMCID: PMC3910743  PMID: 24165192
5.  Sensitivity of Mitochondrial Transcription and Resistance of RNA Polymerase II Dependent Nuclear Transcription to Antiviral Ribonucleosides 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(11):e1003030.
Ribonucleoside analogues have potential utility as anti-viral, -parasitic, -bacterial and -cancer agents. However, their clinical applications have been limited by off target effects. Development of antiviral ribonucleosides for treatment of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection has been hampered by appearance of toxicity during clinical trials that evaded detection during preclinical studies. It is well established that the human mitochondrial DNA polymerase is an off target for deoxyribonucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. Here we test the hypothesis that triphosphorylated metabolites of therapeutic ribonucleoside analogues are substrates for cellular RNA polymerases. We have used ribonucleoside analogues with activity against HCV as model compounds for therapeutic ribonucleosides. We have included ribonucleoside analogues containing 2′-C-methyl, 4′-methyl and 4′-azido substituents that are non-obligate chain terminators of the HCV RNA polymerase. We show that all of the anti-HCV ribonucleoside analogues are substrates for human mitochondrial RNA polymerase (POLRMT) and eukaryotic core RNA polymerase II (Pol II) in vitro. Unexpectedly, analogues containing 2′-C-methyl, 4′-methyl and 4′-azido substituents were inhibitors of POLRMT and Pol II. Importantly, the proofreading activity of TFIIS was capable of excising these analogues from Pol II transcripts. Evaluation of transcription in cells confirmed sensitivity of POLRMT to antiviral ribonucleosides, while Pol II remained predominantly refractory. We introduce a parameter termed the mitovir (mitochondrial dysfunction caused by antiviral ribonucleoside) score that can be readily obtained during preclinical studies that quantifies the mitochondrial toxicity potential of compounds. We suggest the possibility that patients exhibiting adverse effects during clinical trials may be more susceptible to damage by nucleoside analogs because of defects in mitochondrial or nuclear transcription. The paradigm reported here should facilitate development of ribonucleosides with a lower potential for toxicity.
Author Summary
Ribonucleoside analogues have potential utility as anti-viral, -parasitic, -bacterial and -cancer agents. However, their clinical applications have been limited by side effects of unknown origin. Here we show in biochemical and cell-based studies that antiviral ribonucleotide analogues are substrates for human mitochondrial RNA polymerase (POLRMT) and eukaryotic core RNA polymerase II (Pol II) in vitro. Analogues that terminate RNA synthesis by viral RNA polymerases also inhibit these cellular RNA polymerase. Importantly, the TFIIS proofreading activity of Pol II is capable of excising these analogues from Pol II transcripts. We introduce a parameter termed the mitovir (mitochondrial dysfunction caused by antiviral ribonucleoside) score that can be readily obtained during preclinical studies that quantifies the mitochondrial toxicity potential of compounds. We suggest the possibility that patients exhibiting adverse effects during clinical trials may be more susceptible to damage by nucleoside analogs because of defects in mitochondrial or nuclear transcription. The paradigm reported here should facilitate development of ribonucleosides with a lower potential for toxicity.
PMCID: PMC3499576  PMID: 23166498
6.  Optimization of Pharmacokinetics through Manipulation of Physicochemical Properties in a Series of HCV Inhibitors 
ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters  2011;2(10):715-719.
A novel series of HCV replication inhibitors based on a pyrido[3,2-d]pyrimidine core were optimized for pharmacokinetics (PK) in rats. Several associations between physicochemical properties and PK were identified and exploited to guide the design of compounds. In addition, a simple new metric that may aid in the prediction of bioavailability for compounds with higher polar surface area is described (3*HBD-cLogP).
PMCID: PMC4018142  PMID: 24900257
Pharmacokinetics; HCV inhibitors; pyrido[3,2-d]pyrimidine core; 3*HBD-cLogP
7.  The HCV Non-Nucleoside Inhibitor Tegobuvir Utilizes a Novel Mechanism of Action to Inhibit NS5B Polymerase Function 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e39163.
Tegobuvir (TGV) is a novel non-nucleoside inhibitor (NNI) of HCV RNA replication with demonstrated antiviral activity in patients with genotype 1 chronic HCV infection. The mechanism of action of TGV has not been clearly defined despite the identification of resistance mutations mapping to the NS5B polymerase region. TGV does not inhibit NS5B enzymatic activity in biochemical assays in vitro, suggesting a more complex antiviral mechanism with cellular components. Here, we demonstrate that TGV exerts anti-HCV activity utilizing a unique chemical activation and subsequent direct interaction with the NS5B protein. Treatment of HCV subgenomic replicon cells with TGV results in a modified form of NS5B with a distinctly altered mobility on a SDS-PAGE gel. Further analysis reveals that the aberrantly migrating NS5B species contains the inhibitor molecule. Formation of this complex does not require the presence of any other HCV proteins. The intensity of the aberrantly migrating NS5B species is strongly dependent on cellular glutathione levels as well as CYP 1A activity. Furthermore analysis of NS5B protein purified from a heterologous expression system treated with TGV by mass spectrometry suggests that TGV undergoes a CYP- mediated intracellular activation step and the resulting metabolite, after forming a glutathione conjugate, directly and specifically interacts with NS5B. Taken together, these data demonstrate that upon metabolic activation TGV is a specific, covalent inhibitor of the HCV NS5B polymerase and is mechanistically distinct from other classes of the non-nucleoside inhibitors (NNI) of the viral polymerase.
PMCID: PMC3374789  PMID: 22720059
8.  Mechanistic Characterization of GS-9190 (Tegobuvir), a Novel Nonnucleoside Inhibitor of Hepatitis C Virus NS5B Polymerase▿ 
GS-9190 (Tegobuvir) is a novel imidazopyridine inhibitor of hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA replication in vitro and has demonstrated potent antiviral activity in patients chronically infected with genotype 1 (GT1) HCV. GS-9190 exhibits reduced activity against GT2a (JFH1) subgenomic replicons and GT2a (J6/JFH1) infectious virus, suggesting that the compound's mechanism of action involves a genotype-specific viral component. To further investigate the GS-9190 mechanism of action, we utilized the susceptibility differences between GT1b and GT2a by constructing a series of replicon chimeras where combinations of 1b and 2a nonstructural proteins were encoded within the same replicon. The antiviral activities of GS-9190 against the chimeric replicons were reduced to levels comparable to that of the wild-type GT2a replicon in chimeras expressing GT2a NS5B. GT1b replicons in which the β-hairpin region (amino acids 435 to 455) was replaced by the corresponding sequence of GT2a were markedly less susceptible to GS-9190, indicating the importance of the thumb subdomain of the polymerase in this effect. Resistance selection in GT1b replicon cells identified several mutations in NS5B (C316Y, Y448H, Y452H, and C445F) that contributed to the drug resistance phenotype. Reintroduction of these mutations into wild-type replicons conferred resistance to GS-9190, with the number of NS5B mutations correlating with the degree of resistance. Analysis of GS-9190 cross-resistance against previously reported NS5B drug-selected mutations showed that the resistance pattern of GS-9190 is different from other nonnucleoside inhibitors. Collectively, these data demonstrate that GS-9190 represents a novel class of nonnucleoside polymerase inhibitors that interact with NS5B likely through involvement of the β-hairpin in the thumb subdomain.
PMCID: PMC3165336  PMID: 21746939
9.  Cellular Growth Kinetics Distinguish a Cyclophilin Inhibitor from an HSP90 Inhibitor as a Selective Inhibitor of Hepatitis C Virus 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e30286.
During antiviral drug discovery, it is critical to distinguish molecules that selectively interrupt viral replication from those that reduce virus replication by adversely affecting host cell viability. In this report we investigate the selectivity of inhibitors of the host chaperone proteins cyclophilin A (CypA) and heat-shock protein 90 (HSP90) which have each been reported to inhibit replication of hepatitis C virus (HCV). By comparing the toxicity of the HSP90 inhibitor, 17-(Allylamino)-17-demethoxygeldanamycin (17-AAG) to two known cytostatic compounds, colchicine and gemcitabine, we provide evidence that 17-AAG exerts its antiviral effects indirectly through slowing cell growth. In contrast, a cyclophilin inhibitor, cyclosporin A (CsA), exhibited selective antiviral activity without slowing cell proliferation. Furthermore, we observed that 17-AAG had little antiviral effect in a non-dividing cell-culture model of HCV replication, while CsA reduced HCV titer by more than two orders of magnitude in the same model. The assays we describe here are useful for discriminating selective antivirals from compounds that indirectly affect virus replication by reducing host cell viability or slowing cell growth.
PMCID: PMC3275588  PMID: 22347373
10.  Optimized high-throughput screen for Hepatitis C virus translation inhibitors 
Journal of Biomolecular Screening  2011;16(2):211-220.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a considerable global health problem for which new classes of therapeutics are needed. We developed a high-throughput assay to identify compounds that selectively block translation initiation from the HCV internal ribosome entry site (HCV IRES). Rabbit reticulocyte lysate conditions were optimized to faithfully report on authentic HCV IRES-dependent translation relative to a 5′ capped mRNA control. We screened a library of ~430,000 small molecules for IRES inhibition, leading to ~1,700 initial hits. After secondary counter screening the vast majority of hits proved to be luciferase and general translation inhibitors. Despite well-optimized in vitro translation conditions, in the end we found no selective HCV IRES inhibitors but did discover a new scaffold of general translation inhibitor. The analysis of these molecules, and the finding that a large fraction of false positives resulted from off-target effects, highlights the challenges inherent in screens for RNA-specific inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3260011  PMID: 21297107
Hepatitis C virus (HCV); IRES; luciferase; high-throughput screen; rabbit reticulocyte lysate
11.  Selection of Clinically Relevant Protease Inhibitor-Resistant Viruses Using the Genotype 2a Hepatitis C Virus Infection System▿† 
Treatment of patients infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) with direct acting antivirals can lead to the emergence of drug-resistant variants that may pose a long-term threat to viral eradication. HCV replicons have been used to select resistance mutations; however, genotype 2a JFH-1-based viruses provide the opportunity to perform resistance selection in a bona fide infection system. In this study, we used a tissue culture-adapted J6/JFH-1 virus to select resistance to the NS3 protease inhibitors BILN-2061 and VX-950. Lunet-CD81 cells were infected with J6/JFH-1 virus and maintained in the presence of inhibitors until high-titer viral supernatant was produced. Viral supernatants were passaged over naive cells at escalating drug concentrations, and the resulting viruses were then characterized. Three NS3 resistance mutations were identified in BILN-2061-resistant viruses: A156G, D168A, and D168V. Interestingly, D168A, D168V, and A156T/V, but not A156G, were selected in parallel using a genotype 2a replicon. For VX-950, the T54A and A156S NS3 resistance mutations were identified in the virus selections, whereas only A156T/V emerged in genotype 2a replicon selections. Of note, VX-950 resistance mutations selected using the 2a virus (T54A and A156S) were also observed during VX-950 clinical studies in genotype 2 patients. We also performed viral fitness evaluations and determined that the mutations selected in the viral system did not confer marked reductions in virus production kinetics or peak titers. Overall, the HCV infection system is an efficient tool for drug resistance selections and has advantages for the rapid identification and characterization of clinically relevant resistance mutations.
PMCID: PMC3088261  PMID: 21357305
12.  Novel Mutations in a Tissue Culture-Adapted Hepatitis C Virus Strain Improve Infectious-Virus Stability and Markedly Enhance Infection Kinetics▿ 
Journal of Virology  2011;85(8):3978-3985.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) establishes persistent infections and leads to chronic liver disease. It only recently became possible to study the entire HCV life cycle due to the ability of a unique cloned patient isolate (JFH-1) to produce infectious particles in tissue culture. However, despite efficient RNA replication, yields of infectious virus particles remain modest. This presents a challenge for large-scale tissue culture efforts, such as inhibitor screening. Starting with a J6/JFH-1 chimeric virus, we used serial passaging to generate a virus with substantially enhanced infectivity and faster infection kinetics compared to the parental stock. The selected virus clone possessed seven novel amino acid mutations. We analyzed the contribution of individual mutations and identified three specific mutations, core K78E, NS2 W879R, and NS4B V1761L, which were necessary and sufficient for the adapted phenotype. These three mutations conferred a 100-fold increase in specific infectivity compared to the parental J6/JFH-1 virus, and media collected from cells infected with the adapted virus yielded infectious titers as high as 1 × 108 50% tissue culture infective doses (TCID50)/ml. Further analyses indicated that the adapted virus has longer infectious stability at 37°C than the wild type. Given that the adapted phenotype resulted from a combination of mutations in structural and nonstructural proteins, these data suggest that the improved viral titers are likely due to differences in virus particle assembly that result in significantly improved infectious particle stability. This adapted virus will facilitate further studies of the HCV life cycle, virus structure, and high-throughput drug screening.
PMCID: PMC3126117  PMID: 21289124
13.  The Amino-Terminal Domain of Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus Npro Protein Is Necessary for Alpha/Beta Interferon Antagonism 
Journal of Virology  2006;80(2):900-911.
The alpha/beta interferon (IFN-α/β) system is the first line of defense against viral infection and a critical link between the innate and adaptive immune responses. IFN-α/β secretion is the hallmark of cellular responses to acute RNA virus infections. As part of their survival strategy, many viruses have evolved mechanisms to counteract the host IFN-α/β response. Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) (genus Pestivirus) was reported to trigger interferon production in infected cultured cells under certain circumstances or to suppress it under others. Our studies with various cultured fibroblasts and epithelial bovine cells indicated that cytopathic (cp) BVDV induces IFN-α/β very inefficiently. Using a set of engineered cp BVDVs expressing mutant Npro and appropriate controls, we found that the IFN-α/β response to infection was dependent on Npro expression and independent of viral replication efficiency. In order to investigate whether the protease activity of Npro is required for IFN-α/β antagonism, we engineered Npro mutants lacking protease activity by replacement of amino acid E22, H49, or C69. We found that E22 and H49 substitutions abolished the ability of Npro to suppress IFN, whereas C69 had no effect, suggesting that the structural integrity of the N terminus of Npro was more important than its catalytic activity for IFN-α/β suppression. A catalytically active mutant with a change at a conserved Npro region near the N terminus (L8P) in both BVDV biotypes did not antagonize IFN-α/β production, confirming its involvement in this process. Taken together, these results not only provide direct evidence for the role of Npro in blocking IFN-α/β induction, but also implicate the amino-terminal domain of the protein in this function.
PMCID: PMC1346884  PMID: 16378992
14.  Establishment of a Subgenomic Replicon for Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus in Huh-7 Cells and Modulation of Interferon-Regulated Factor 3-Mediated Antiviral Response 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(5):2788-2796.
We describe the development of a selectable, bi-cistronic subgenomic replicon for bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) in Huh-7 cells, similar to that established for hepatitis C virus (HCV). The selection marker and reporter (Luc-Ubi-Neo) in the BVDV replicon was fused with the amino-terminal protease Npro, and expression of the nonstructural proteins (NS3 to NS5B) was driven by an encephalomyocarditis virus internal ribosome entry site. This BVDV replicon allows us to compare RNA replication of these two related viruses in a similar cellular background and to identify antiviral molecules specific for HCV RNA replication. The BVDV replicon showed similar sensitivity as the HCV replicon to interferons (alpha, beta, and gamma) and 2′-β-C-methyl ribonucleoside inhibitors. Known nonnucleoside inhibitor molecules specific for either HCV or BVDV can be easily distinguished by using the parallel replicon systems. The HCV replicon has been shown to block, via the NS3/4A serine protease, Sendai virus-induced activation of interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF-3), a key antiviral signaling molecule. Similar suppression of IRF-3-mediated responses was also observed with the Huh-7-BVDV replicon but was independent of NS3/4A protease activity. Instead, the amino-terminal cysteine protease Npro of BVDV appears to be, at least partly, responsible for suppressing IRF-3 activation induced by Sendai virus infection. This result suggests that different viruses, including those closely related, may have developed unique mechanisms for evading host antiviral responses. The parallel BVDV and HCV replicon systems provide robust counterscreens to distinguish viral specificity of small-molecule inhibitors of viral replication and to study the interactions of the viral replication machinery with the host cell innate immune system.
PMCID: PMC548457  PMID: 15708997
15.  Crystal Structure of Complete Rhinovirus RNA Polymerase Suggests Front Loading of Protein Primer 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(1):277-288.
Picornaviruses utilize virally encoded RNA polymerase and a uridylylated protein primer to ensure replication of the entire viral genome. The molecular details of this mechanism are not well understood due to the lack of structural information. We report the crystal structure of human rhinovirus 16 3D RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (HRV16 3Dpol) at a 2.4-Å resolution, representing the first complete polymerase structure from the Picornaviridae family. HRV16 3Dpol shares the canonical features of other known polymerase structures and contains an N-terminal region that tethers the fingers and thumb subdomains, forming a completely encircled active site cavity which is accessible through a small tunnel on the backside of the molecule. The small thumb subdomain contributes to the formation of a large cleft on the front face of the polymerase which also leads to the active site. The cleft appears large enough to accommodate a template:primer duplex during RNA elongation or a protein primer during the uridylylation stage of replication initiation. Based on the structural features of HRV16 3Dpo1 and the catalytic mechanism known for all polymerases, a front-loading model for uridylylation is proposed.
PMCID: PMC538717  PMID: 15596823
16.  Involvement of a Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus NS5B Locus in Virion Assembly†  
Journal of Virology  2004;78(18):9612-9623.
A novel mutant of bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) was found with a virion assembly phenotype attributable to an insertion into the NS5B polymerase locus. This mutant, termed 5B-741, was engineered by reverse genetics to express NS5B with a C-terminal peptide tag of 22 amino acids. Electroporation of bovine cells with genomic RNA from this mutant showed levels RNA synthesis which were regarded as sufficient for infectivity, yet infectious virions were not produced. Pseudorevertants of mutant 5B-741 that released infectious virions and formed plaques revealed a single nucleotide change (T12369C). This change resulted in a leucine-to-proline substitution within the NS5B tag (L726P). Genetic analysis revealed that indeed a single nucleotide change encoding proline at NS5B position 726 in the pseudorevertant polyprotein mediated recovery of virion assembly function without improving genomic RNA accumulation levels. A subgenomic BVDV reporter replicon (rNS3-5B) was used to analyze the consequences of alterations of the genomic region encoding the NS5B C terminus on replication and assembly. Interestingly, rNS3-5B-L726P (revertant) replicated with the same efficiency as the rNS3-5B-741 mutant but produced 10 times more virions in a trans-packaging assay. These results indicated that impairment of assembly function in 5B-741 was independent of RNA accumulation levels and agreed with the observations from the full-length mutant and revertant genomes. Finally, we recapitulated the packaging defect of 5B-741 with a vaccinia virus expression system to eliminate possible unwanted interactions between the helper virus and the packaged replicon. Taken together, these studies revealed an unexpected role of NS5B in infectious virion assembly.
PMCID: PMC515013  PMID: 15331694
17.  Dinucleotide Analogues as Novel Inhibitors of RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase of Hepatitis C Virus 
Replication of hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA is catalyzed by the virally encoded RNA-dependent RNA polymerase NS5B. It is believed that the viral polymerase utilizes a de novo or primer-independent mechanism for initiation of RNA synthesis. Our previous work has shown that dinucleotides were efficient initiation molecules for NS5B in vitro (W. Zhong, E. Ferrari, C. A. Lesburg, D. Maag, S. K. Ghosh, C. E. Cameron, J. Y. Lau, and Z. Hong, J. Virol. 74:9134-9143, 2000). In this study, we further demonstrated that dinucleotide analogues could serve as inhibitors of de novo initiation of RNA synthesis directed by HCV NS5B. Both mononucleotide- and dinucleotide-initiated RNA syntheses were affected by dinucleotide analogues. The presence of the 5′-phosphate group in the dinucleotide compounds was required for efficient inhibition of de novo initiation. Optimal inhibitory activity also appeared to be dependent on the base-pairing potential between the compounds and the template terminal bases. Because the initiation process is a rate-limiting step in viral RNA replication, inhibitors that interfere with the initiation process will have advantages in suppressing virus replication. The use of dinucleotide analogues as inhibitor molecules to target viral replication initiation represents a novel approach to antiviral interference.
PMCID: PMC166071  PMID: 12878540
18.  Viability of Poliovirus/Rhinovirus VPg Chimeric Viruses and Identification of an Amino Acid Residue in the VPg Gene Critical for Viral RNA Replication 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(13):7434-7443.
Picornaviral RNA replication utilizes a small virus-encoded protein, termed 3B or VPg, as a primer to initiate RNA synthesis. This priming step requires uridylylation of the VPg peptide by the viral polymerase protein 3Dpol, in conjunction with other viral or host cofactors. In this study, we compared the viral specificity in 3Dpol-catalyzed uridylylation reactions between poliovirus (PV) and human rhinovirus 16 (HRV16). It was found that HRV16 3Dpol was able to uridylylate PV VPg as efficiently as its own VPg, but PV 3Dpol could not uridylylate HRV16 VPg. Two chimeric viruses, PV containing HRV16 VPg (PV/R16-VPg) and HRV16 containing PV VPg (R16/PV-VPg), were constructed and tested for replication capability in H1-HeLa cells. Interestingly, only PV/R16-VPg chimeric RNA produced infectious virus particles upon transfection. No viral RNA replication or cytopathic effect was observed in cells transfected with R16/PV-VPg chimeric RNA, despite the ability of HRV16 3Dpol to uridylylate PV VPg in vitro. Sequencing analysis of virion RNA isolated from the virus particles generated by PV/R16-VPg chimeric RNA identified a single residue mutation in the VPg peptide (Glu6 to Val). Reverse genetics confirmed that this mutation was highly compensatory in enhancing replication of the chimeric viral RNA. PV/R16-VPg RNA carrying this mutation replicated with similar kinetics and magnitude to wild-type PV RNA. This cell culture-induced mutation in HRV16 VPg moderately increased its uridylylation by PV 3Dpol in vitro, suggesting that it might be involved in other function(s) in addition to the direct uridylylation reaction. This study demonstrated the use of chimeric viruses to characterize viral specificity and compatibility in vivo between PV and HRV16 and to identify critical amino acid residue(s) for viral RNA replication.
PMCID: PMC164788  PMID: 12805442
19.  In Vitro RNA Replication Directed by Replicase Complexes Isolated from the Subgenomic Replicon Cells of Hepatitis C Virus 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(3):2295-2300.
Replication of hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA in virus-infected cells is believed to be catalyzed by viral replicase complexes (RCs), which may consist of various virally encoded nonstructural proteins and host factors. In this study, we characterized the RC activity of a crude membrane fraction isolated from HCV subgenomic replicon cells. The RC preparation was able to use endogenous replicon RNA as a template to synthesize both single-stranded (ss) and double-stranded (ds) RNA products. Divalent cations (Mg2+ and Mn2+) showed different effects on RNA synthesis. Mg2+ ions stimulated the synthesis of ss RNA but had little effect on the synthesis of ds RNA. In contrast, Mn2+ ions enhanced primarily the synthesis of ds RNA. Interestingly, ss RNA could be synthesized under certain conditions in the absence of ds RNA, and vice versa, suggesting that the ss and ds RNA were derived either from different forms of replicative intermediates or from different RCs. Pulse-chase analysis showed that radioactivity incorporated into the ss RNA was chased into the ds RNA and other larger RNA species. This observation indicated that the newly synthesized ss RNA could serve as a template for a further round of RNA synthesis. Finally, 3′ deoxyribonucleoside triphosphates were able to inhibit RNA synthesis in this cell-free system, presumably through chain termination, with 3′ dGTP having the highest potency. Establishment of the replicase assay will facilitate the identification and evaluation of potential inhibitors that would act against the entire RC of HCV.
PMCID: PMC140981  PMID: 12525668
20.  Comparative Analysis of Anti-Hepatitis C Virus Activity and Gene Expression Mediated by Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Interferons 
Journal of Virology  2002;76(21):11148-11154.
A direct comparison of the inhibitory effects of alpha, beta, and gamma interferons (IFNs) on replication of a hepatitis C virus subgenomic replicon in a hepatoma cell line revealed similarities in antiviral potency. However, alternate IFN-induced antiviral mechanisms were suggested following observations of striking differences between IFN-γ and IFN-α/β with respect to strength and durability of the antiviral response and the magnitude and pattern of IFN-mediated gene expression.
PMCID: PMC136623  PMID: 12368359
21.  Template Nucleotide Moieties Required for De Novo Initiation of RNA Synthesis by a Recombinant Viral RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase 
Journal of Virology  2000;74(22):10312-10322.
The recombinant RNA-dependent RNA polymerase of the bovine viral diarrhea virus specifically requires a cytidylate at the 3′ end for the de novo initiation of RNA synthesis (C. C. Kao, A. M. Del Vecchio, and W. Zhong, Virology 253:1–7, 1999). Using RNAs containing nucleotide analogs, we found that the N3 and C4-amino group at the initiation cytidine were required for RNA synthesis. However, the ribose C2′-hydroxyl of the initiating cytidylate can accept several modifications and retain the ability to direct synthesis. The only unacceptable modification is a protonated C2′-amino group. Quite strikingly, the recognition of the functional groups for the initiation cytidylate and other template nucleotides are different. For example, a C5-methyl group in cytidine can direct RNA synthesis at all template positions except at the initiation cytidylate and C2′-amino modifications are tolerated better after the +11 position. When a 4-thiouracil (4sU) base analog that allows only imperfect base pairing with the nascent RNA is placed at different positions in the template, the efficiency of synthesis is correlated with the calculated stability of the template-nascent RNA duplex adjacent to the position of the 4sU. These results define the requirements for the specific interactions required for the initiation of RNA synthesis and will be compared to the mechanisms of initiation by other RNA-dependent and DNA-dependent RNA polymerases.
PMCID: PMC110905  PMID: 11044075
22.  Template/Primer Requirements and Single Nucleotide Incorporation by Hepatitis C Virus Nonstructural Protein 5B Polymerase 
Journal of Virology  2000;74(19):9134-9143.
Nonstructural protein 5B (NS5B) of hepatitis C virus (HCV) possesses an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase activity responsible for viral genome RNA replication. Despite several reports on the characterization of this essential viral enzyme, little is known about the reaction pathway of NS5B-catalyzed nucleotide incorporation due to the lack of a kinetic system offering efficient assembly of a catalytically competent polymerase/template/primer/nucleotide quaternary complex. In this report, specific template/primer requirements for efficient RNA synthesis by HCV NS5B were investigated. For intramolecular copy-back RNA synthesis, NS5B utilizes templates with an unstable stem-loop at the 3′ terminus which exists as a single-stranded molecule in solution. A template with a stable tetraloop at the 3′ terminus failed to support RNA synthesis by HCV NS5B. Based on these observations, a number of single-stranded RNA templates were synthesized and tested along with short RNA primers ranging from two to five nucleotides. It was found that HCV NS5B utilized di- or trinucleotides efficiently to initiate RNA replication. Furthermore, the polymerase, template, and primer assembled initiation-competent complexes at the 3′ terminus of the template RNA where the template and primer base paired within the active site cavity of the polymerase. The minimum length of the template is five nucleotides, consistent with a structural model of the NS5B/RNA complex in which a pentanucleotide single-stranded RNA template occupies a groove located along the fingers subdomain of the polymerase. This observation suggests that the initial docking of RNA on NS5B polymerase requires a single-stranded RNA molecule. A unique β-hairpin loop in the thumb subdomain may play an important role in properly positioning the single-stranded template for initiation of RNA synthesis. Identification of the template/primer requirements will facilitate the mechanistic characterization of HCV NS5B and its inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC102112  PMID: 10982360
23.  Generation and Characterization of a Hepatitis C Virus NS3 Protease-Dependent Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus 
Journal of Virology  2000;74(14):6339-6347.
Unique to pestiviruses, the N-terminal protein encoded by the bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) genome is a cysteine protease (Npro) responsible for a self-cleavage that releases the N terminus of the core protein (C). This unique protease is dispensable for viral replication, and its coding region can be replaced by a ubiquitin gene directly fused in frame to the core. To develop an antiviral assay that allows the assessment of anti-hepatitis C virus (HCV) NS3 protease inhibitors, a chimeric BVDV in which the coding region of Npro was replaced by that of an NS4A cofactor-tethered HCV NS3 protease domain was generated. This cofactor-tethered HCV protease domain was linked in frame to the core protein of BVDV through an HCV NS5A-NS5B junction site and mimicked the proteolytic function of Npro in the release of BVDV core for capsid assembly. A similar chimeric construct was built with an inactive HCV NS3 protease to serve as a control. Genomic RNA transcripts derived from both chimeric clones, PH/B (wild-type HCV NS3 protease) and PH/B(S139A) (mutant HCV NS3 protease) were then transfected into bovine cells (MDBK). Only the RNA transcripts from the PH/B clone yielded viable viruses, whereas the mutant clone, PH/B(S139A), failed to produce any signs of infection, suggesting that the unprocessed fusion protein rendered the BVDV core protein defective in capsid assembly. Like the wild-type BVDV (NADL), the chimeric virus was cytopathic and formed plaques on the cell monolayer. Sequence and biochemical analyses confirmed the identity of the chimeric virus and further revealed variant viruses due to growth adaptation. Growth analysis revealed comparable replication kinetics between the wild-type and the chimeric BVDVs. Finally, to assess the genetic stability of the chimeric virus, an Npro-null BVDV (BVDV−Npro in which the entire Npro coding region was deleted) was produced. Although cytopathic, BVDV−Npro was highly defective in viral replication and growth, a finding consistent with the observed stability of the chimeric virus after serial passages.
PMCID: PMC112140  PMID: 10864644
24.  Virus-Specific Cofactor Requirement and Chimeric Hepatitis C Virus/GB Virus B Nonstructural Protein 3 
Journal of Virology  2000;74(9):4291-4301.
GB virus B (GBV-B) is closely related to hepatitis C virus (HCV) and causes acute hepatitis in tamarins (Saguinus species), making it an attractive surrogate virus for in vivo testing of anti-HCV inhibitors in a small monkey model. It has been reported that the nonstructural protein 3 (NS3) serine protease of GBV-B shares similar substrate specificity with its counterpart in HCV. Authentic proteolytic processing of the HCV polyprotein junctions (NS4A/4B, NS4B/5A, and NS5A/5B) can be accomplished by the GBV-B NS3 protease in an HCV NS4A cofactor-independent fashion. We further characterized the protease activity of a full-length GBV-B NS3 protein and its cofactor requirement using in vitro-translated GBV-B substrates. Cleavages at the NS4A/4B and NS5A/5B junctions were readily detectable only in the presence of a cofactor peptide derived from the central region of GBV-B NS4A. Interestingly, the GBV-B substrates could also be cleaved by the HCV NS3 protease in an HCV NS4A cofactor-dependent manner, supporting the notion that HCV and GBV-B share similar NS3 protease specificity while retaining a virus-specific cofactor requirement. This finding of a strict virus-specific cofactor requirement is consistent with the lack of sequence homology in the NS4A cofactor regions of HCV and GBV-B. The minimum cofactor region that supported GBV-B protease activity was mapped to a central region of GBV-B NS4A (between amino acids Phe22 and Val36) which overlapped with the cofactor region of HCV. Alanine substitution analysis demonstrated that two amino acids, Val27 and Trp31, were essential for the cofactor activity, a finding reminiscent of the two critical residues in the HCV NS4A cofactor, Ile25 and Ile29. A model for the GBV-B NS3 protease domain and NS4A cofactor complex revealed that GBV-B might have developed a similar structural strategy in the activation and regulation of its NS3 protease activity. Finally, a chimeric HCV/GBV-B bifunctional NS3, consisting of an N-terminal HCV protease domain and a C-terminal GBV-B RNA helicase domain, was engineered. Both enzymatic activities were retained by the chimeric protein, which could lead to the development of a chimeric GBV-B virus that depends on HCV protease function.
PMCID: PMC111946  PMID: 10756044
25.  De Novo Initiation of RNA Synthesis by Hepatitis C Virus Nonstructural Protein 5B Polymerase 
Journal of Virology  2000;74(4):2017-2022.
RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) encoded by positive-strand RNA viruses is critical to the replication of viral RNA genome. Like other positive-strand RNA viruses, replication of hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA is mediated through a negative-strand intermediate, which is generated through copying the positive-strand genomic RNA. Although it has been demonstrated that HCV NS5B alone can direct RNA replication through a copy-back primer at the 3′ end, de novo initiation of RNA synthesis is likely to be the mode of RNA replication in infected cells. In this study, we demonstrate that a recombinant HCV NS5B protein has the ability to initiate de novo RNA synthesis in vitro. The NS5B used HCV 3′ X-tail RNA (98 nucleotides) as the template to synthesize an RNA product of monomer size, which can be labeled by [γ-32P]nucleoside triphosphate. The de novo initiation activity was further confirmed by using small synthetic RNAs ending with dideoxynucleotides at the 3′ termini. In addition, HCV NS5B preferred GTP as the initiation nucleotide. The optimal conditions for the de novo initiation activity have been determined. Identification and characterization of the de novo priming or initiation activity by HCV NS5B provides an opportunity to screen for inhibitors that specifically target the initiation step.
PMCID: PMC111680  PMID: 10644375

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