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J Virol. 1994 Jun;68(6):3631-41.

Biosynthesis and biochemical properties of the hepatitis C virus core protein.

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Instituto di Ricerche di Biologia Molecolare, P. Angeletti Pomezia, Rome, Italy.


The biosynthesis and biochemical properties of the putative nucleocapsid protein of hepatitis C virus (HCV) were investigated. RNA transcripts for cell-free translation were prepared from truncated form of the cDNA construct encoding the structural proteins of HCV. Processing of the translation products was dependent on microsomal membranes and signal recognition particle, suggesting that release of the 21-kDa core protein from the polyprotein precursor is mediated solely by the signal peptidase of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and is achieved by the removal of a putative signal sequence of approximately 18 residues located at its C terminus. The core protein was found to bind membranes in vitro and in transfected cells, as shown by centrifugation analysis of in vitro translation products and transfected-cell lysates. Immunofluorescence of transfected cells showed that the core protein colocalized with the E2 glycoprotein as well as with a cellular ER membrane marker. The nucleocapsid protein expressed by in vitro translation in rabbit reticulocyte lysates cosedimented with the large ribosomal subunit in sucrose gradients. The ribosome binding domain was mapped to the N-terminal region of the core protein. Moreover, the same region was shown to bind RNA in vitro, suggesting that cosedimentation of core protein with ribosomes may be mediated by the RNA binding of the nucleocapsid protein of HCV. These studies indicate that the HCV core protein is a cytoplasmic protein associated with the ER membranes and possesses RNA binding activity.

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