Analysis of the RNA chaperoning activity of the hepatitis C virus core protein on the conserved 3′X region of the viral genome

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The core protein of hepatitis c virus (HCV) is a structural protein with potent RNA chaperoning activities mediated by its hydrophilic N-terminal domain D1, which is thought to play a key role in HCV replication. To further characterize the core chaperoning properties, we studied the interactions between core D1 and the conserved HCV 3′X genomic region required for genome replication. To this end, we monitored the real-time annealing kinetics of native and mutated fluorescently labelled 16-nt palindromic sequence (DLS) and 27-nt Stem Loop II (SL2) from X with their respective complementary sequences. Core D1 and peptides consisting of the core basic domains were found to promote both annealing reactions and partly switch the loop–loop interaction pathway, which predominates in the absence of peptide, towards a pathway involving the stem termini. The chaperone properties of the core D1 peptides were found to be mediated through interaction of their basic clusters with the oligonucleotide phosphate groups, in line with the absence of high affinity site for core on HCV genomic RNA. The core ability to facilitate the interconversion between different RNA structures may explain how this protein regulates RNA structural transitions during HCV replication.

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