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FEBS J. 2007 Aug;274(16):4057-74. Epub 2007 Jul 25.

Expression studies of the core+1 protein of the hepatitis C virus 1a in mammalian cells. The influence of the core protein and proteasomes on the intracellular levels of core+1.

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Molecular Virology Laboratory, Hellenic Pasteur Institute, Athens, Greece.


Recent studies have suggested the existence of a novel protein of hepatitis C virus (HCV) encoded by an ORF overlapping the core gene in the +1 frame (core+1 ORF). Two alternative translation mechanisms have been proposed for expression of the core+1 ORF of HCV-1a in cultured cells; a frameshift mechanism within codons 8-11, yielding a protein known as core+1/F, and/or translation initiation from internal codons in the core+1 ORF, yielding a shorter protein known as core+1/S. To date, the main evidence for the expression of this protein in vivo has been the specific humoral and cellular immune responses against the protein in HCV-infected patients, inasmuch as its detection in biopsies or the HCV infectious system remains elusive. In this study, we characterized the expression properties of the HCV-1a core+1 protein in mammalian cells in order to identify conditions that facilitate its detection. We showed that core+1/S is a very unstable protein, and that expression of the core protein in addition to proteosome activity can downregulate its intracellular levels. Also, we showed that in the Huh-7/T7 cytoplasmic expression system the core+1 ORF from the HCV-1 isolate supports the synthesis of both the core+1/S and core+1/F proteins. Finally, immunofluorescence and subcellular fractionation analyses indicated that core+1/S and core+1/F are cytoplasmic proteins with partial endoplasmic reticulum distribution in interphase cells, whereas in dividing cells they also localize to the microtubules of the mitotic spindle.

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