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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e25854. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025854. Epub 2011 Oct 24.

Identification of a functional, CRM-1-dependent nuclear export signal in hepatitis C virus core protein.

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Unité Hépacivirus et Immunité Innée, Département de Virologie, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major cause of chronic liver disease worldwide. HCV core protein is involved in nucleocapsid formation, but it also interacts with multiple cytoplasmic and nuclear molecules and plays a crucial role in the development of liver disease and hepatocarcinogenesis. The core protein is found mostly in the cytoplasm during HCV infection, but also in the nucleus in patients with hepatocarcinoma and in core-transgenic mice. HCV core contains nuclear localization signals (NLS), but no nuclear export signal (NES) has yet been identified.We show here that the aa(109-133) region directs the translocation of core from the nucleus to the cytoplasm by the CRM-1-mediated nuclear export pathway. Mutagenesis of the three hydrophobic residues (L119, I123 and L126) in the identified NES or in the sequence encoding the mature core aa(1-173) significantly enhanced the nuclear localisation of the corresponding proteins in transfected Huh7 cells. Both the NES and the adjacent hydrophobic sequence in domain II of core were required to maintain the core protein or its fragments in the cytoplasmic compartment. Electron microscopy studies of the JFH1 replication model demonstrated that core was translocated into the nucleus a few minutes after the virus entered the cell. The blockade of nucleocytoplasmic export by leptomycin B treatment early in infection led to the detection of core protein in the nucleus by confocal microscopy and coincided with a decrease in virus replication.Our data suggest that the functional NLS and NES direct HCV core protein shuttling between the cytoplasmic and nuclear compartments, with at least some core protein transported to the nucleus. These new properties of HCV core may be essential for virus multiplication and interaction with nuclear molecules, influence cell signaling and the pathogenesis of HCV infection.

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