Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the main agent of acute and chronic liver diseases leading to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. The current standard therapy has limited efficacy and serious side effects. Thus, the development of alternate therapies is of tremendous importance. HCV NS5A (nonstructural 5A protein) is a pleiotropic protein with key roles in HCV replication and cellular signaling pathways. Here we demonstrate that NS5A dimerization occurs through Domain I (amino acids 1-240). This interaction is not mediated by nucleic acids because benzonase, RNase, and DNase treatments do not prevent NS5A-NS5A interactions. Importantly, DTT abrogates NS5A-NS5A interactions but does not affect NS5A-cyclophilin A interactions. Other reducing agents such as tris(2-carboxyethyl) phosphine and 2-mercaptoethanol also abrogate NS5A-NS5A interactions, implying that disulfide bridges may play a role in this interaction. Cyclophilin inhibitors, cyclosporine A, and alisporivir and NS5A inhibitor BMS-790052 do not block NS5A dimerization, suggesting that their antiviral effects do not involve the disruption of NS5A-NS5A interactions. Four cysteines, Cys-39, Cys-57, Cys-59, and Cys-80, are critical for dimerization. Interestingly, the four cysteines have been proposed to form a zinc-binding motif. Supporting this notion, NS5A dimerization is greatly facilitated by Zn2+ but not by Mg2+ or Mn2+. Importantly, the four cysteines are vital not only for viral replication but also critical for NS5A binding to RNA, revealing a correlation between NS5A dimerization, RNA binding, and HCV replication. Altogether our data suggest that NS5A-NS5A dimerization and/or multimerization could represent a novel target for the development of HCV therapies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology