Phosphorylation of serines 157, 164, and 172 within the carboxyl-terminal SPRRR motif of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) core (C) protein modulates HBV replication at multiple stages. Threonine 162 and serines 170 and 178, located within the carboxyl-terminal conserved RRRS/T motif of HBV C protein, have been proposed to be protein kinase A phosphorylation sites. However, in vivo phosphorylation of these residues has never been observed, and their contribution to HBV replication remains unknown. In this study, [(32)P]orthophosphate labeling of cells expressing C proteins followed by immunoprecipitation with anti-HBc antibody revealed that threonine 162 and serines 170 and 178 are phosphoacceptor residues. A triple-alanine-substituted mutant, mimicking dephosphorylation of all three residues, drastically decreased pregenomic RNA (pgRNA) encapsidation, thereby decreasing HBV DNA synthesis. In contrast, a triple-glutamate-substituted mutant, mimicking phosphorylation of these residues, decreased DNA synthesis without significantly decreasing encapsidation. Neither triple mutant affected C protein expression or core particle assembly. Individual alanine substitution of threonine 162 significantly decreased minus-strand, plus-strand, and relaxed-circular DNA synthesis, demonstrating that this residue plays multiple roles in HBV DNA synthesis. Double-alanine substitution of serines 170 and 178 reduced HBV replication at multiple stages, indicating that these residues also contribute to HBV replication. Thus, in addition to serines 157, 164, and 172, threonine 162 and serines 170 and 178 of HBV C protein are also phosphorylated in cells, and phosphorylation and dephosphorylation of these residues play multiple roles in modulation of HBV replication.
Importance: Threonine 162, within the carboxyl-terminal end of the hepatitis B virus (HBV adw) core (C) protein, has long been ignored as a phosphoacceptor, even though it is highly conserved among mammalian hepadnaviruses and in the overlapping consensus RxxS/T, RRxS/T, and TP motifs. Here we show, for the first time, that in addition to the well-known phosphoacceptor serines 157, 164, and 172 in SPRRR motifs, threonine 162 and serines 170 and 178 in the RRRS/T motif are phosphorylated in cells. We also show that, like serines 157, 164, and 172, phosphorylated and dephosphorylated threonine 162 and serines 170 and 178 contribute to multiple steps of HBV replication, including pgRNA encapsidation, minus-strand and plus-strand DNA synthesis, and relaxed-circular DNA synthesis. Of these residues, threonine 162 is the most important. Furthermore, we show that phosphorylation of C protein is required for efficient completion of HBV replication.
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