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J Virol. 2009 Jan;83(2):612-21. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00832-08. Epub 2008 Oct 29.

Ubiquitin-independent degradation of hepatitis C virus F protein.

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Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90033, USA.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) F protein is encoded by the +1 reading frame of the viral genome. It overlaps with the core protein coding sequence, and multiple mechanisms for its expression have been proposed. The full-length F protein that is synthesized by translational ribosomal frameshift at codons 9 to 11 of the core protein sequence is a labile protein. By using a combination of genetic, biochemical, and cell biological approaches, we demonstrate that this HCV F protein can bind to the proteasome subunit protein alpha3, which reduces the F-protein level in cells in a dose-dependent manner. Deletion-mapping analysis identified amino acids 40 to 60 of the F protein as the alpha3-binding domain. This alpha3-binding domain of the F protein together with its upstream sequence could significantly destabilize the green fluorescent protein, an otherwise stable protein. Further analyses using an F-protein mutant lacking lysine and a cell line that contained a temperature-sensitive E1 ubiquitin-activating enzyme indicated that the degradation of the F protein was ubiquitin independent. Based on these observations as well as the observation that the F protein could be degraded directly by the 20S proteasome in vitro, we propose that the full-length HCV F protein as well as the F protein initiating from codon 26 is degraded by an ubiquitin-independent pathway that is mediated by the proteasome subunit alpha3. The ability of the F protein to bind to alpha3 raises the possibility that the HCV F protein may regulate protein degradation in cells.

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