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J Virol. 2011 Aug;85(16):8158-71. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00858-11. Epub 2011 Jun 15.

Charged residues in hepatitis C virus NS4B are critical for multiple NS4B functions in RNA replication.

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  • Department of Molecular Microbiology, Center for Infectious Disease Research, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA. blight@borcim.wustl.edu


The nonstructural 4B (NS4B) protein of hepatitis C virus (HCV) plays a central role in the formation of the HCV replication complex. To gain insight into the role of charged residues for NS4B function in HCV RNA replication, alanine substitutions were engineered in place of 28 charged residues residing in the N- and C-terminal cytoplasmic domains of the NS4B protein of the HCV genotype 1b strain Con1. Eleven single charged-to-alanine mutants were not viable, while the remaining mutants were replication competent, albeit to differing degrees. By selecting revertants, second-site mutations were identified for one of the lethal NS4B mutations. Second-site mutations mapped to NS4B and partially suppressed the lethal replication phenotype. Further analyses showed that three NS4B mutations disrupted the formation of putative replication complexes, one mutation altered the stability of the NS4B protein, and cleavage at the NS4B/5A junction was significantly delayed by another mutation. Individual charged-to-alanine mutations did not affect interactions between the NS4B and NS3-4A proteins. A triple charged-to-alanine mutation produced a temperature-sensitive replication phenotype with no detectable RNA replication at 39°C, demonstrating that conditional mutations can be obtained by altering the charge characteristics of NS4B. Finally, NS4B mutations dispensable for efficient Con1 RNA replication were tested in the context of the chimeric genotype 2a virus, but significant defects in infectious-virus production were not detected. Taken together, these findings highlight the importance of charged residues for multiple NS4B functions in HCV RNA replication, including the formation of a functional replication complex.

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