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J Mol Biol. 2001 Oct 26;313(3):451-64.

Recent advances in the molecular biology of hepatitis C virus.

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Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


The Hepatitis C virus is a positive-stranded RNA virus which is the causal agent for a chronic liver infection afflicting more than 170,000,000 people world-wide. The HCV genome is approximately 9.6 kb in length and the proteome encoded is a polyprotein of a little more than 3000 amino acid residues. This polyprotein is processed by a combination of host and viral proteases into structural and non-structural proteins. The functions of most of these proteins have been established by analogy to other viruses and by sequence homology to known proteins, as well as subsequent biochemical analysis. Two of the non-structural proteins, NS4b and NS5a, are still of unknown function. The development of antivirals for this infectious agent has been hampered by the lack of robust and economical cell culture and animal infection systems. Recent progress in the molecular virology of HCV has come about due to the definition of molecular clones, which are infectious in the chimpanzee, the development of a subgenomic replicon system in Huh7 cells, and the description of a transgenic mouse model for HCV infection. Recent progress in the structural biology of the virus has led to the determination of high resolution three-dimensional structures of a number of the key virally encoded enzymes, including the NS3 protease, NS3 helicase, and NS5b RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. In some cases these structures have been determined in complex with substrates, co-factors (NS4a), and inhibitors. Finally, a variety of techniques have been used to define host factors, which may be required for HCV replication, although this work is just beginning.

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