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J Virol. 2009 Oct;83(19):9993-10006. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00509-09. Epub 2009 Jul 15.

The hepatitis C virus core protein contains a BH3 domain that regulates apoptosis through specific interaction with human Mcl-1.

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Collaborative Anti-Viral Research Group, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Singapore.


The hepatitis C virus (HCV) core protein is known to modulate apoptosis and contribute to viral replication and pathogenesis. In this study, we have identified a Bcl-2 homology 3 (BH3) domain in the core protein that is essential for its proapoptotic property. Coimmunoprecipitation experiments showed that the core protein interacts specifically with the human myeloid cell factor 1 (Mcl-1), a prosurvival member of the Bcl-2 family, but not with other prosurvival members (Bcl-X(L) and Bcl-w). Moreover, the overexpression of Mcl-1 protects against core-induced apoptosis. By using peptide mimetics, core was found to release cytochrome c from isolated mitochondria when complemented with Bad. Thus, core is a bona fide BH3-only protein having properties similar to those of Noxa, a BH3-only member of the Bcl-2 family that binds preferentially to Mcl-1. There are three critical hydrophobic residues in the BH3 domain of the core protein, and they are essential for the proapoptotic property of the core protein. Furthermore, the genotype 1b core protein is more effective than the genotype 2a core protein in inducing apoptosis due to a single-amino-acid difference at one of these hydrophobic residues (residue 119). Replacing this residue in the J6/JFH-1 infectious clone (genotype 2a) with the corresponding amino acid in the genotype 1b core protein produced a mutant virus, J6/JFH-1(V119L), which induced significantly higher levels of apoptosis in the infected cells than the parental J6/JFH-1 virus. Furthermore, the core protein of J6/JFH-1(V119L), but not that of J6/JFH-1, interacted with Mcl-1 in virus-infected cells. Taken together, the core protein is a novel BH3-only viral homologue that contributes to the induction of apoptosis during HCV infection.

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