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J Virol. 2010 Dec;84(24):12515-28. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01393-10. Epub 2010 Oct 13.

Identification of basic amino acids at the N-terminal end of the core protein that are crucial for hepatitis C virus infectivity.

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INSERM U1019, CNRS UMR 8204, Center for Infection and Immunity of Lille, Institut de Biologie de Lille, F-59021 Lille, France.


A major function of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) core protein is the interaction with genomic RNA to form the nucleocapsid, an essential component of the virus particle. Analyses to identify basic amino acid residues of HCV core protein, important for capsid assembly, were initially performed with a cell-free system, which did not indicate the importance of these residues for HCV infectivity. The development of a cell culture system for HCV (HCVcc) allows a more precise analysis of these core protein amino acids during the HCV life cycle. In the present study, we used a mutational analysis in the context of the HCVcc system to determine the role of the basic amino acid residues of the core protein in HCV infectivity. We focused our analysis on basic residues located in two clusters (cluster 1, amino acids [aa]6 to 23; cluster 2, aa 39 to 62) within the N-terminal 62 amino acids of the HCV core protein. Our data indicate that basic residues of the first cluster have little impact on replication and are dispensable for infectivity. Furthermore, only four basic amino acids residues of the second cluster (R50, K51, R59, and R62) were essential for the production of infectious viral particles. Mutation of these residues did not interfere with core protein subcellular localization, core protein-RNA interaction, or core protein oligomerization. Moreover, these mutations had no effect on core protein envelopment by intracellular membranes. Together, these data indicate that R50, K51, R59, and R62 residues play a major role in the formation of infectious viral particles at a post-nucleocapsid assembly step.

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