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Coordination of Hepatitis C Virus Assembly by Distinct Regulatory Regions in Nonstructural Protein 5A.

PLoS pathogens (2016-01-05)
Margarita Zayas, Gang Long, Vanesa Madan, Ralf Bartenschlager

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) nonstructural protein (NS)5A is a RNA-binding protein composed of a N-terminal membrane anchor, a structured domain I (DI) and two intrinsically disordered domains (DII and DIII) interacting with viral and cellular proteins. While DI and DII are essential for RNA replication, DIII is required for assembly. How these processes are orchestrated by NS5A is poorly understood. In this study, we identified a highly conserved basic cluster (BC) at the N-terminus of DIII that is critical for particle assembly. We generated BC mutants and compared them with mutants that are blocked at different stages of the assembly process: a NS5A serine cluster (SC) mutant blocked in NS5A-core interaction and a mutant lacking the envelope glycoproteins (ΔE1E2). We found that BC mutations did not affect core-NS5A interaction, but strongly impaired core-RNA association as well as virus particle envelopment. Moreover, BC mutations impaired RNA-NS5A interaction arguing that the BC might be required for loading of core protein with viral RNA. Interestingly, RNA-core interaction was also reduced with the ΔE1E2 mutant, suggesting that nucleocapsid formation and envelopment are coupled. These findings argue for two NS5A DIII determinants regulating assembly at distinct, but closely linked steps: (i) SC-dependent recruitment of replication complexes to core protein and (ii) BC-dependent RNA genome delivery to core protein, triggering encapsidation that is tightly coupled to particle envelopment. These results provide a striking example how a single viral protein exerts multiple functions to coordinate the steps from RNA replication to the assembly of infectious virus particles.

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