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J Biol Chem. 2003 Nov 7;278(45):44514-24. Epub 2003 Aug 27.

Two novel conserved motifs in the hepatitis C virus NS3 protein critical for helicase action.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York 10595, USA.


The hepatitis C virus (HCV) NS3 helicase shares several conserved motifs with other superfamily 2 (SF2) helicases. Besides these sequences, several additional helicase motifs are conserved among the various HCV genotypes and quasispecies. The roles of two such motifs are examined here. The first motif (YRGXDV) forms a loop that connects SF2 helicase motifs 4 and 5, at the tip of which is Arg393. When Arg393 is changed to Ala, the resulting protein (R393A) retains a nucleic acid stimulated ATPase but cannot unwind RNA. R393A also unwinds DNA more slowly than wild type and translocates poorly on single-stranded DNA (ssDNA). DNA and RNA stimulate ATP hydrolysis catalyzed by R393A like the wild type, but the mutant protein binds ssDNA more weakly both in the presence and absence of the non-hydrolyzable ATP analog ADP(BeF3). The second motif (DFSLDPTF) forms a loop that connects two anti-parallel sheets between SF2 motifs 5 and 6. When Phe444 in this Phe-loop is changed to Ala, the resulting protein (F444A) is devoid of all activities. When Phe438 is changed to Ala, the protein (F438A) retains nucleic acid-stimulated ATPase, but does not unwind RNA. F438A unwinds DNA and translocates on ssDNA at about half the rate of the wild type. Equilibrium binding data reveal that this uncoupling of ATP hydrolysis and unwinding is due to the fact that the F438A mutant does not release ssDNA upon ATP binding like the wild type. A model is presented explaining the roles of the Arg-clamp and the Phe-loop in the unwinding reaction.

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