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J Virol. 1993 Apr;67(4):2327-35.

Cleavage at a novel site in the NS4A region by the yellow fever virus NS2B-3 proteinase is a prerequisite for processing at the downstream 4A/4B signalase site.

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Department of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110-1093.


Flavivirus proteins are produced by co- and posttranslational proteolytic processing of a large polyprotein by both host- and virus-encoded proteinases. The viral serine proteinase, which consists of NS2B and NS3, is responsible for cleavage of at least four dibasic sites (2A/2B, 2B/3, 3/4A, and 4B/5) in the nonstructural region. Since the amino acid sequence preceding NS4B shares characteristics with signal peptides used for translocation of nascent polypeptides into the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum, it has been proposed that cleavage at the 4A/4B site is mediated by a cellular signal peptidase. In this report, cell-free translation and in vivo transient expression assays were used to study processing in the NS4 region of the yellow fever virus polyprotein. With a construct which contained NS4B preceded by 17 residues constituting the putative signal peptide (sig4B), membrane-dependent cleavage at the 4A/4B site was demonstrated in vitro. Surprisingly, processing of NS4A-4B was not observed in cell-free translation studies, and in vivo expression of several yellow fever virus polyproteins revealed that the 4A/4B cleavage occurred only during coexpression of NS2B and the proteinase domain of NS3. Examination of mutant derivatives of the NS3 proteinase domain demonstrated that cleavage at the 4A/4B site correlated with expression of an active NS2B-3 proteinase. From these results, we propose a model in which the signalase cleavage generating the N terminus of NS4B requires a prior NS2B-3 proteinase-mediated cleavage at a novel site (called the 4A/2K site) which is conserved among flaviviruses and located 23 residues upstream of the signalase site. In support of this model, mutations at the 4A/4B signalase site did not eliminate processing in the NS4 region. In contrast, substitutions at the 4A/2K site, which were engineered to block NS2B-3 proteinase-mediated cleavage, eliminated signalase cleavage at the 4A/4B site. In addition, the size of the 3(502)-4A product generated by trans processing of a truncated polyprotein, 3(502)-5(356), was consistent with cleavage at the 4A/2K site rather than at the downstream 4A/4B signalase site.

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