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    Replication of the genotype 2 hepatitis C virus (HCV) requires hyperphosphorylation of the nonstructural protein NS5A. It has been known that NS5A hyperphosphorylation results from the phosphorylation of a cluster of highly conserved serine residues (S2201, S2208, S2211, and S2214) in a sequential manner. It has also been known that NS5A hyperphosphorylation requires an NS3 protease encoded on one single NS3-5A polyprotein. It was unknown whether NS3 protease participates in this sequential phosphorylation process. Using an inventory of antibodies specific to S2201, S2208, S2211, and S2214 phosphorylation, we found that protease-dead S1169A mutation abrogated NS5A hyperphosphorylation and phosphorylation at all serine residues measured, consistent with the role of NS3 in NS5A sequential phosphorylation. These effects were not rescued by a wild-type NS3 protease provided in trans by another molecule. Mutations (T1661R, T1661Y, or T1661D) that prohibited proper cleavage at the NS3-4A junction also abolished NS5A hyperphosphorylation and phosphorylation at all serine residues, whereas mutations at the other cleavage sites, NS4A-4B (C1715S) or NS4B-5A (C1976F), did not. In fact, any combinatory mutations that prohibited NS3-4A cleavage (T1661Y/C1715S or T1661Y/C1976F) abrogated NS5A hyperphosphorylation and phosphorylation at all serine residues. In the C1715S/C1976F double mutant, which resulted in an NS4A-NS4B-NS5A fusion polyprotein, a hyperphosphorylated band was observed and was phosphorylated at all serine residues. We conclude that NS3-mediated autocleavage at the NS3-4A junction is critical to NS5A hyperphosphorylation at S2201, S2208, S2211, and S2214 and that NS5A hyperphosphorylation could occur in an NS4A-NS4B-NS5A polyprotein.IMPORTANCE For ca. 20 years, the HCV protease NS3 has been implicated in NS5A hyperphosphorylation. We now show that it is the NS3-mediated cis cleavage at the NS3-4A junction that permits NS5A phosphorylation at serines 2201, 2208, 2211, and 2214, leading to hyperphosphorylation, which is a necessary condition for genotype 2 HCV replication. We further show that NS5A may already be phosphorylated at these serine residues right after NS3-4A cleavage and before NS5A is released from the NS4A-5A polyprotein. Our data suggest that the dual-functional NS3, a protease and an ATP-binding RNA helicase, could have a direct or indirect role in NS5A hyperphosphorylation. Copyright © 2020 American Society for Microbiology.


    Cho-Han Chiang, Yen-Ling Lai, Yu-Ning Huang, Chun-Chiao Yu, Christine C Lu, Guann-Yi Yu, Ming-Jiun Yu. Sequential Phosphorylation of the Hepatitis C Virus NS5A Protein Depends on NS3-Mediated Autocleavage between NS3 and NS4A. Journal of virology. 2020 Sep 15;94(19)

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    PMID: 32699091

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