Background & Aims: The cyclophilin (Cyp) inhibitors - cyclosporine A (CsA), NIM811, Debio 025, and SCY 635 - block HCV replication both in vitro and in vivo, and represent a novel class of potent anti-HCV agents. We and others showed that HCV relies on cyclophilin A (CypA) to replicate. We demonstrated that the hydrophobic pocket of CypA, where Cyp inhibitors bind, and which controls the isomerase activity of CypA, is critical for HCV replication. Recent studies showed that under Cyp inhibitor selection, mutations arose in the HCV nonstructural 5A (NS5A) protein. This led us to postulate that CypA assists HCV by acting on NS5A. Methods: We tested this hypothesis by developing several interaction assays including GST pull-down assays, ELISA, and mammalian two-hybrid binding assays. Results: We demonstrated that full-length NS5A and CypA form a stable complex. Remarkably, CsA prevents the CypA-NS5A interaction in a dose-dependent manner. Importantly, the CypA-NS5A interaction is conserved among genotypes and is interrupted by CsA. Surprisingly, the NS5A mutant protein, which arose in CsA-resistant HCV variants, behaves similarly to wild-type NS5A in terms of both CypA binding and CsA-mediated release from CypA. This latter finding suggests that HCV resistance to CsA does not correlate with a resistance of the CypA-NS5A interaction to Cyp inhibitors. Moreover, we found that CypA, devoid of its isomerase activity, fails to bind NS5A. Conclusions: Altogether these data suggest that CypA, via its isomerase pocket, binds directly to NS5A, and most importantly, that disrupting this interaction stops HCV replication.
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