Investigation of a role for lysine residues in non-structural proteins 2 and 2/3 of the hepatitis C virus for their degradation and virus assembly

J Gen Virol. 2009 May;90(Pt 5):1071-1080. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.009944-0. Epub 2009 Mar 4.


It has been demonstrated that both uncleaved, enzymitically inactive NS2/3 and cleaved NS2 proteins are rapidly degraded upon expression in cells, phenomena described to be blocked by the addition of proteasome inhibitors. As this degradation and its regulation potentially constitute an important strategy of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) to regulate the levels of its non-structural proteins, we further investigated the turnover of these proteins in relevant RNA replication systems. A lysine-mutagenesis approach was used in an effort to prevent protein degradation and determine any effect on various steps of the viral replication cycle. We show that, while NS2-lysine mutagenesis of protease-inactive NS2/3 results in a partial stabilization of this protein, the increased NS2/3 levels do not rescue the inability of NS2/3 protease inactive replicons to replicate, suggesting that uncleaved NS2/3 is unable to functionally replace NS3 in RNA replication. Furthermore, we show that the cleaved NS2 protein is rapidly degraded in several transient and stable RNA replicon systems and that NS2 from several different genotypes also has a short half-life, highlighting the potential importance of the regulation of NS2 levels for the viral life cycle. However, in contrast to uncleaved NS2/3, neither ubiquitin nor proteasomal degradation appear to be significantly involved in NS2 degradation. Finally, although NS2 lysine-to-arginine mutagenesis does not affect this protein's levels in a JFH-1 cell culture infection system, several of these residues are identified to be involved in virion assembly, further substantiating the importance of regions of this protein for production of infectious virus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / chemistry*
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / genetics
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral / physiology
  • Genome, Viral
  • Genotype
  • Hepacivirus / drug effects
  • Hepacivirus / genetics
  • Hepacivirus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Leupeptins / pharmacology
  • Lysine / chemistry*
  • Lysine / genetics
  • Models, Molecular
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Protein Conformation
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / chemistry*
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / genetics
  • Virus Assembly / physiology*


  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • DNA, Viral
  • Leupeptins
  • NS2 protein, Hepatitis C virus
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • NS2-3 protease
  • Lysine
  • benzyloxycarbonylleucyl-leucyl-leucine aldehyde