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J Virol. 1997 Nov;71(11):8698-706.

Determination of the secondary structure of and cellular protein binding to the 3'-untranslated region of the hepatitis C virus RNA genome.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles 90033-1054, USA.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) contains a positive-stranded RNA genome of approximately 9.5 kb. Despite the overall sequence diversity among individual HCV isolates, the 3'-end 98 nucleotides (nt) of the HCV RNA, which constitute part of the 3'-untranslated region (3'-UTR), are highly conserved. This conserved region may contain the cis-acting signals for RNA replication involving possibly both viral and cellular proteins. We carried out RNase digestion studies, which revealed that this 98-nt region contains three stem-loops but may also assume alternative structures. We further performed UV cross-linking experiments to detect cellular proteins that bound to this region. A 58-kDa cellular protein (p58) was detected. Its binding site was mapped to the stem-loops 2 and 3, which are the most conserved region of the 3'-UTR. Site-directed mutagenesis studies revealed that both stem structures and specific nucleotide sequence within the two loops are important for p58 binding. Mutations that disrupted stem structures abolished protein binding, while the compensatory mutations restored its binding. This region also contains partial sequence similarity to the reported consensus binding sequence for polypyrimidine tract-binding protein (PTB) (a 57-kDa protein). The UV-cross-linked protein could be immunoprecipitated with the anti-PTB antibody, and the recombinant PTB bound to the HCV 3'-UTR with the same binding specificity as p58, establishing that this protein is PTB. However, the reported PTB-binding sequence was not sufficient, but rather the entire stem-loops 2 and 3 were required, for PTB binding; thus, its binding specificity is significantly different from the reported PTB-binding sequence requirement. This protein was detected in both the nuclei and cytoplasm of most mammalian cell lines tested and human primary hepatocytes. PTB may participate in the regulation of HCV RNA synthesis or translation.

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