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Fold Des. 1998;3(6):433-41.

Rational design and functional expression of a constitutively active single-chain NS4A-NS3 proteinase.

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Istituto di Ricerche di Biologia Molecolare (IRBM), P. Angeletti, Pomezia (Rome), Italy.



The proteinase domain of the hepatitis C virus NS3 protein is involved in the maturation of the viral polyprotein. A central hydrophobic domain of the NS4A protein is required as a cofactor for its proteolytic activity. The three-dimensional structure of the proteinase domain alone and complexed with an NS4A-derived peptide has been solved recently and revealed that the N terminus of the proteinase is in near proximity to the C terminus of the cofactor. To study the molecular basis of the enzyme activation by its cofactor and to overcome the difficulties of structural and functional investigation associated with a two-species complex, we rationally designed a link to bridge the two molecules in order to have a single polypeptide construct.


The engineered construct led to the production of a stable, monomeric protein with proteolytic activity that is independent from the addition of a synthetic peptide representing the cofactor domain of the NS4A protein. The protein is active on both protein and synthetic peptide substrates. Spectroscopic and kinetic analysis of the recombinant NS4A-NS3 single-chain proteinase demonstrated features superimposable with the isolated NS3 proteinase domain complexed with the NS4A cofactor.


We designed a very tight connection between the NS3 and NS4A polypeptide chains with the rationale that this would allow a more stable structure to be formed. The engineered single-chain enzyme was indistinguishable from the NS3 proteinase complexed with its NS4A cofactor in all enzymatic and physico-chemical properties investigated.

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