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J Virol. May 1993; 67(5): 2832–2843.
PMCID: PMC237608

Characterization of the hepatitis C virus-encoded serine proteinase: determination of proteinase-dependent polyprotein cleavage sites.


Processing of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) H strain polyprotein yields at least nine distinct cleavage products: NH2-C-E1-E2-NS2-NS3-NS4A-NS4B-NS5A-NS5B-CO OH. As described in this report, site-directed mutagenesis and transient expression analyses were used to study the role of a putative serine proteinase domain, located in the N-terminal one-third of the NS3 protein, in proteolytic processing of HCV polyproteins. All four cleavages which occur C terminal to the proteinase domain (3/4A, 4A/4B, 4B/5A, and 5A/5B) were abolished by substitution of alanine for either of two predicted residues (His-1083 and Ser-1165) in the proteinase catalytic triad. However, such substitutions have no observable effect on cleavages in the structural region or at the 2/3 site. Deletion analyses suggest that the structural and NS2 regions of the polyprotein are not required for the HCV NS3 proteinase activity. NS3 proteinase-dependent cleavage sites were localized by N-terminal sequence analysis of NS4A, NS4B, NS5A, and NS5B. Sequence comparison of the residues flanking these cleavage sites for all sequenced HCV strains reveals conserved residues which may play a role in determining HCV NS3 proteinase substrate specificity. These features include an acidic residue (Asp or Glu) at the P6 position, a Cys or Thr residue at the P1 position, and a Ser or Ala residue at the P1' position.

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