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J Virol. 2000 Oct;74(19):9134-43.

Template/primer requirements and single nucleotide incorporation by hepatitis C virus nonstructural protein 5B polymerase.

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  • 1Department of Antiviral Therapy, Schering-Plough Research Institute, Kenilworth, New Jersey 07033-0539, USA.


Nonstructural protein 5B (NS5B) of hepatitis C virus (HCV) possesses an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase activity responsible for viral genome RNA replication. Despite several reports on the characterization of this essential viral enzyme, little is known about the reaction pathway of NS5B-catalyzed nucleotide incorporation due to the lack of a kinetic system offering efficient assembly of a catalytically competent polymerase/template/primer/nucleotide quaternary complex. In this report, specific template/primer requirements for efficient RNA synthesis by HCV NS5B were investigated. For intramolecular copy-back RNA synthesis, NS5B utilizes templates with an unstable stem-loop at the 3' terminus which exists as a single-stranded molecule in solution. A template with a stable tetraloop at the 3' terminus failed to support RNA synthesis by HCV NS5B. Based on these observations, a number of single-stranded RNA templates were synthesized and tested along with short RNA primers ranging from two to five nucleotides. It was found that HCV NS5B utilized di- or trinucleotides efficiently to initiate RNA replication. Furthermore, the polymerase, template, and primer assembled initiation-competent complexes at the 3' terminus of the template RNA where the template and primer base paired within the active site cavity of the polymerase. The minimum length of the template is five nucleotides, consistent with a structural model of the NS5B/RNA complex in which a pentanucleotide single-stranded RNA template occupies a groove located along the fingers subdomain of the polymerase. This observation suggests that the initial docking of RNA on NS5B polymerase requires a single-stranded RNA molecule. A unique beta-hairpin loop in the thumb subdomain may play an important role in properly positioning the single-stranded template for initiation of RNA synthesis. Identification of the template/primer requirements will facilitate the mechanistic characterization of HCV NS5B and its inhibitors.

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