1887

Abstract

Despite extensive research, many details about the structure and functions of hepatitis C virus (HCV) glycoproteins E1 and E2 are not fully understood, and their crystal structure remains to be determined. We applied linker-scanning mutagenesis to generate a panel of 34 mutants, each containing an insertion of 5 aa at a random position within the E1E2 sequence. The mutated glycoproteins were analysed by using a range of assays to identify regions critical for maintaining protein conformation, E1E2 complex assembly, CD81 receptor binding, membrane fusion and infectivity. The results, while supporting previously published data, provide several interesting new findings. Firstly, insertion at amino acid 587 or 596 reduced E1E2 heterodimerization without affecting reactivity with some conformation-sensitive mAbs or with CD81, thus implicating these residues in glycoprotein assembly. Secondly, insertions within a conserved region of E2, between amino acid residues 611 and 631, severely disrupted protein conformation and abrogated binding of all conformation-sensitive antibodies, suggesting that the structural integrity of this region is critical for the correct folding of E2. Thirdly, an insertion at Leu-682 specifically affected membrane fusion, providing direct evidence that the membrane-proximal ‘stem’ of E2 is involved in the fusion mechanism. Overall, our results show that the HCV glycoproteins generally do not tolerate insertions and that there are a very limited number of sites that can be changed without dramatic loss of function. Nevertheless, we identified two E2 insertion mutants, at amino acid residues 408 and 577, that were infectious in the murine leukemia virus-based HCV pseudoparticle system.

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2011-10-01
2019-08-26
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