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J Virol. 2013 Feb;87(3):1605-17. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02659-12. Epub 2012 Nov 21.

Disulfide bonds in hepatitis C virus glycoprotein E1 control the assembly and entry functions of E2 glycoprotein.

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Center for Infection and Immunity of Lille, INSERM U1019, CNRS UMR8204, Institut Pasteur de Lille, Université Lille Nord de France, Lille, France.


Class II membrane fusion proteins have been described in viruses in which the envelope proteins are derived from a precursor polyprotein containing two transmembrane glycoproteins arranged in tandem. Although the second protein, which carries the membrane fusion function, is in general well characterized, the companion protein, which is a protein chaperone for the folding of the fusion protein, is less well characterized for some viruses, like hepatitis C virus (HCV). To investigate the role of the class II companion glycoprotein E1 of HCV, we chose to target conserved cysteine residues in the protein, and we systematically mutated them in a full-length infectious HCV clone by reverse genetics. All the mutants were infectious, albeit with lower titers than the wild-type virus. The reduced infectivity was in part due to a decrease in viral assembly, as revealed by measurement of intracellular infectivity and by quantification of core protein released from cells transfected with mutant genomes. Analyses of mutated proteins did not show any major defect in folding. However, the mutations reduced virus stability, and they could also affect the density of infectious viral particles. Mutant viruses also showed a defect in cell-to-cell transmission. Finally, our data indicate that HCV glycoprotein E1 can also affect the fusion protein E2 by modulating its recognition by the cellular coreceptor CD81. Therefore, in the context of HCV, our data identify an additional function of a class II companion protein as a molecule that can control the binding capacity of the fusion protein.

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