The nonstructural protein NS5A has emerged as a new drug target in antiviral therapies for Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infection. NS5A is critically involved in viral RNA replication that takes place at newly formed membranes within the endoplasmic reticulum (membranous web) and assists viral assembly in the close vicinity of lipid droplets (LDs). To identify host proteins that interact with NS5A, we performed a yeast two-hybrid screen with the N-terminus of NS5A (amino acids 1-31), a well-studied α-helical domain important for the membrane tethering of NS5A. Our studies identified the LD-associated host protein, Tail-Interacting Protein 47 (TIP47) as a novel NS5A interaction partner. Coimmunoprecipitation experiments in Huh7 hepatoma cells confirmed the interaction of TIP47 with full-length NS5A. shRNA-mediated knockdown of TIP47 caused a more than 10-fold decrease in the propagation of full-length infectious HCV in Huh7.5 hepatoma cells. A similar reduction was observed when TIP47 was knocked down in cells harboring an autonomously replicating HCV RNA (subgenomic replicon), indicating that TIP47 is required for efficient HCV RNA replication. A single point mutation (W9A) in NS5A that disrupts the interaction with TIP47 but preserves proper subcellular localization severely decreased HCV RNA replication. In biochemical membrane flotation assays, TIP47 cofractionated with HCV NS3, NS5A, NS5B proteins, and viral RNA, and together with nonstructural viral proteins was uniquely distributed to lower-density LD-rich membrane fractions in cells actively replicating HCV RNA. Collectively, our data support a model where TIP47--via its interaction with NS5A--serves as a novel cofactor for HCV infection possibly by integrating LD membranes into the membranous web.
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