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J Virol. 1997 Nov;71(11):8416-28.

Biochemical properties of hepatitis C virus NS5B RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and identification of amino acid sequence motifs essential for enzymatic activity.

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  • 1Institute for Virology, Johannes-Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany.


The NS5B protein of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) (S.-E. Behrens, L. Tomei, and R. De Francesco, EMBO J. 15:12-22, 1996) that is assumed to be required for replication of the viral genome. To further study the biochemical and structural properties of this enzyme, an NS5B-hexahistidine fusion protein was expressed with recombinant baculoviruses in insect cells and purified to near homogeneity. The enzyme was found to have a primer-dependent RdRp activity that was able to copy a complete in vitro-transcribed HCV genome in the absence of additional viral or cellular factors. Filter binding assays and competition experiments showed that the purified enzyme binds RNA with no clear preference for HCV 3'-end sequences. Binding to homopolymeric RNAs was also examined, and the following order of specificity was observed: poly(U) > poly(G) > poly(A) > poly(C). An inverse order was found for the RdRp activity, which used poly(C) most efficiently as a template but was inactive on poly(U) and poly(G), suggesting that a high binding affinity between polymerase and template interferes with processivity. By using a mutational analysis, four amino acid sequence motifs crucial for RdRp activity were identified. While most substitutions of conserved residues within these motifs severely reduced the enzymatic activities, a single substitution in motif D which enhanced the RdRp activity by about 50% was found. Deletion studies indicate that amino acid residues at the very termini, in particular the amino terminus, are important for RdRp activity but not for RNA binding. Finally, we found a terminal transferase activity associated with the purified enzyme. However, this activity was also detected with NS5B proteins with an inactive RdRp, with an NS4B protein purified in the same way, and with wild-type baculovirus, suggesting that it is not an inherent activity of NS5B.

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