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Biochemistry. 1999 Apr 27;38(17):5620-32.

Modulation of hepatitis C virus NS3 protease and helicase activities through the interaction with NS4A.

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Istituto di Ricerche di Biologia Molecolare "P. Angeletti", Rome, Italy.


The hepatitis C virus nonstructural 3 protein (NS3) possesses a serine protease activity in the N-terminal one-third, whereas RNA-stimulated NTPase and helicase activities reside in the C-terminal portion. The serine protease activity is required for proteolytic processing at the NS3-NS4A, NS4A-NS4B, NS4B-NS5A, and NS5A-NS5B polyprotein cleavage sites. NS3 forms a complex with NS4A, a 54-residue polypeptide that was shown to act as an essential cofactor of the NS3 protease. We have expressed in Escherichia coli the NS3-NS4A precursor; cleavage at the junction between NS3 and NS4A occurs during expression in the bacteria cells, resulting in the formation of a soluble noncovalent complex with a sub-nanomolar dissociation constant. We have assessed the minimal ionic strength and detergent and glycerol concentrations required for maximal proteolytic activity and stability of the purified NS3-NS4A complex. Using a peptide substrate derived from the NS5A-NS5B junction, the catalytic efficiency (kcat/Km) of NS3-NS4A-associated protease under optimized conditions was 55 000 s-1 M-1, very similar to that measured with a recombinant complex purified from eukaryotic cells. Dissociation of the NS3-NS4A complex was found to be fully reversible. No helicase activity was exhibited by the purified NS3-NS4A complex, but NS3 was fully active as a helicase upon dissociation of NS4A. On the other hand, both basal and poly(U)-induced NTPase activity and ssRNA binding activity associated with the NS3-NS4A complex were very similar to those exhibited by NS3 alone. Therefore, NS4A appears to uncouple the ATPase/ssRNA binding and RNA unwinding activities associated with NS3.

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