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J Biol Chem. 2006 Dec 15;281(50):38448-58. Epub 2006 Oct 19.

Insights to substrate binding and processing by West Nile Virus NS3 protease through combined modeling, protease mutagenesis, and kinetic studies.

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School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences and Centre for Drug Design and Development, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia.


West Nile Virus is becoming a widespread pathogen, infecting people on at least four continents with no effective treatment for these infections or many of their associated pathologies. A key enzyme that is essential for viral replication is the viral protease NS2B-NS3, which is highly conserved among all flaviviruses. Using a combination of molecular fitting of substrates to the active site of the crystal structure of NS3, site-directed enzyme and cofactor mutagenesis, and kinetic studies on proteolytic processing of panels of short peptide substrates, we have identified important enzyme-substrate interactions that define substrate specificity for NS3 protease. In addition to better understanding the involvement of S2, S3, and S4 enzyme residues in substrate binding, a residue within cofactor NS2B has been found to strongly influence the preference of flavivirus proteases for lysine or arginine at P2 in substrates. Optimization of tetrapeptide substrates for enhanced protease affinity and processing efficiency has also provided important clues for developing inhibitors of West Nile Virus infection.

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