Hepatitis C virus (HCV) particles associate with lipoproteins and infect cells by using at least four cell entry factors. These factors include scavenger receptor class B type I (SR-BI), CD81, claudin 1 (CLDN1), and occludin (OCLN). Little is known about specific functions of individual host factors during HCV cell entry and viral domains that mediate interactions with these factors. Hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) within viral envelope protein 2 (E2) is involved in the usage of SR-BI and conceals the viral CD81 binding site. Moreover, deletion of this domain alters the density of virions. We compared lipoprotein interaction, surface attachment, receptor usage, and cell entry between wild-type HCV and a viral mutant lacking this domain. Deletion of HVR1 did not affect CD81, CLDN1, and OCLN usage. However, unlike wild-type HCV, HVR1-deleted viruses were not neutralized by antibodies and small molecules targeting SR-BI. Nevertheless, modulation of SR-BI cell surface expression altered the infection efficiencies of both viruses to similar levels. Analysis of affinity-purified virions revealed comparable levels of apolipoprotein E (ApoE) incorporation into viruses with or without HVR1. However, ApoE incorporated into these viruses was differentially recognized by ApoE-specific antibodies. Thus, SR-BI has at least two functions during cell entry. One of them can be neutralized by SR-BI-targeting molecules, and it is critical only for wild-type HCV. The other one is important for both viruses but apparently is not inactivated by the SR-BI binding antibodies and small molecules evaluated here. In addition, HVR1 modulates the conformation and/or epitope exposure of virus particle-associated ApoE.
Importance: HCV cell entry is SR-BI dependent irrespective of the presence or absence of HVR1. Moreover, this domain modulates the properties of ApoE on the surface of virus particles. These findings have implications for the development of SR-BI-targeting antivirals. Furthermore, these findings highlight separable functions of SR-BI during HCV cell entry and reveal a novel role of HVR1 for the properties of virus-associated lipoproteins.
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