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Biol Chem. 1997 Jun;378(6):469-76.

The nonstructural proteins of the hepatitis C virus: structure and functions.

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I.R.B.M-Istituto di Ricerche di Biologia Molecolare P. Angeletti-Pomezia, Rome, Italy.


The hepatitis C virus is the major causative agent of nonA-nonB hepatitis worldwide. Although this virus cannot be cultivated in cell culture, several of its features have been elucidated in the past few years. The viral genome is a single-stranded, 9.5kb long RNA molecule of positive polarity. The viral genome is translated into a single polyprotein of about 3000 amino acids. The virally encoded polyprotein undergoes proteolytic processing by a combination of cellular and viral proteolytic enzymes in order to yield all the mature viral gene products. The gene order of HCV has been determined to be C-E1-E2-p7-NS2-NS3-NS4A-NS4B-NS5A-NS5B. The mature structural proteins, C, E1 and E2 have been shown to arise from the viral polyprotein via proteolytic processing by host signal peptidases. Conversely, generation of the mature nonstructural proteins relies on the activity of viral proteases. Thus, cleavage at the NS2/NS3 junction is accomplished by a metal-dependent autoprotease encoded within NS2 and the N-terminus of NS3. The remaining cleavages downstream from this site are effected by a serine protease contained within the N-terminal region of NS3. Besides the protease domain, NS3 also contains an RNA helicase domain at its C-terminus. NS3 forms a heterodimeric complex with NS4A. The latter is a membrane protein that has been shown to act as a cofactor of the protease. Whereas the NS5B protein has been shown to be the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, no function has yet been attributed to NS4B and NS5A. The latter is a cytoplasmic phosphoprotein and appears to be involved in mediating the resistance of the hepatitis C virus to the action of interferon.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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