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J Biol Chem. 2007 Apr 27;282(17):12883-92. Epub 2007 Mar 2.

Functional characterization of cis and trans activity of the Flavivirus NS2B-NS3 protease.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA.


Flaviviruses are serious human pathogens for which treatments are generally lacking. The proteolytic maturation of the 375-kDa viral polyprotein is one target for antiviral development. The flavivirus serine protease consists of the N-terminal domain of the multifunctional nonstructural protein 3 (NS3) and an essential 40-residue cofactor (NS2B(40)) within viral protein NS2B. The NS2B-NS3 protease is responsible for all cytoplasmic cleavage events in viral polyprotein maturation. This study describes the first biochemical characterization of flavivirus protease activity using full-length NS3. Recombinant proteases were created by fusion of West Nile virus (WNV) NS2B(40) to full-length WNV NS3. The protease catalyzed two autolytic cleavages. The NS2B/NS3 junction was cleaved before protein purification. A second site at Arg(459) decreasing Gly(460) within the C-terminal helicase region of NS3 was cleaved more slowly. Autolytic cleavage reactions also occurred in NS2B-NS3 recombinant proteins from yellow fever virus, dengue virus types 2 and 4, and Japanese encephalitis virus. Cis and trans cleavages were distinguished using a noncleavable WNV protease variant and two types of substrates as follows: an inactive variant of recombinant WNV NS2B-NS3, and cyan and yellow fluorescent proteins fused by a dodecamer peptide encompassing a natural cleavage site. With these materials, the autolytic cleavages were found to be intramolecular only. Autolytic cleavage of the helicase site was insensitive to protein dilution, confirming that autolysis is intramolecular. Formation of an active protease was found to require neither cleavage of NS2B from NS3 nor a free NS3 N terminus. Evidence was also obtained for product inhibition of the protease by the cleaved C terminus of NS2B.

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