By virtue of its chaperone activity, the capsid protein of dengue virus strain 2 (DENV2C) promotes nucleic acid structural rearrangements. However, the role of DENV2C during the interaction of RNA elements involved in stabilizing the 5′-3′ panhandle structure of DENV RNA is still unclear. Therefore, we determined how DENV2C affects structural functionality of the capsid-coding region hairpin element (cHP) during annealing and strand displacement of the 9-nt cyclization sequence (5CS) and its complementary 3CS. cHP has two distinct functions: a role in translation start codon selection and a role in RNA synthesis. Our results showed that cHP impedes annealing between 5CS and 3CS. Although DENV2C does not modulate structural functionality of cHP, it accelerates annealing and specifically promotes strand displacement of 3CS during 5′-3′ panhandle formation. Furthermore, DENV2C exerts its chaperone activity by favouring one of the active conformations of cHP. Based on our results, we propose mechanisms for annealing and strand displacement involving cHP. Thus, our results provide mechanistic insights into how DENV2C regulates RNA synthesis by modulating essential RNA elements in the capsid-coding region, that in turn allow for DENV replication.
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