Hepatitis C virus (HCV) poses a growing threat to global health as it often leads to serious liver diseases and is one of the primary causes for liver transplantation. Currently, no vaccines are available to prevent HCV infection and clinical treatments have limited success. Since HCV has a small proteome, it relies on many host cell proteins to complete its life cycle. In this study, we used a non-directed phenyl sulfonate ester probe (PS4≡) to selectively target a broad range of enzyme families that show differential activity during HCV replication in Huh-7 cells.
The PS4≡ probe successfully targeted 19 active proteins in nine distinct protein families, some that were predominantly labeled in situ compared to the in vitro labeled cell homogenate. Nine proteins revealed altered activity levels during HCV replication. Some candidates identified, such as heat shock 70 kDa protein 8 (or HSP70 cognate), have been shown to influence viral release and abundance of cellular lipid droplets. Other differentially active PS4≡ targets, such as electron transfer flavoprotein alpha, protein disulfide isomerase A5, and nuclear distribution gene C homolog, constitute novel proteins that potentially mediate HCV propagation.
These findings demonstrate the practicality and versatility of non-directed activity-based protein profiling (ABPP) to complement directed methods and accelerate the discovery of altered protein activities associated with pathological states such as HCV replication. Collectively, these results highlight the ability of in situ ABPP approaches to facilitate the identification of enzymes that are either predominantly or exclusively labeled in living cells. Several of these differentially active enzymes represent possible HCV-host interactions that could be targeted for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes.