Characterization of functional determinants in the C-terminal part of hepatitis C virus E1 glycoprotein ectodomain

Abstract : Hepatitis C virus is currently estimated to infect around 71 million people around the world. However, recent advances in drug development led to the generation of pangenotypic direct acting antivirals (DAA), which may make it possible to eliminate HCV by 2030 as planned by the World health organization (WHO). HCV is a small RNA enveloped virus of positive sense. The RNA is encapsidated and surrounded by a lipid bilayer in which the E1 and E2 envelope glycoproteins are anchored on the surface. Thus, E1 and E2 are the first viral proteins to encounter the hepatocytes and mediate the entry step. HCV entry into hepatocytes is a sophisticated process that includes several steps ranging from interaction of glycoproteins with cellular host attachment factors and HCV specific-receptors, which is followed by internalization via clathrin-mediated endocytosis. Finally, viral and endosomal membranes merge at acidic pH leading to the release of viral RNA into the cytoplasm. Among the two glycoproteins, E2 has been the better characterized, as it is responsible for binding to cellular receptors and targeted by neutralizing antibodies. As a member of the Flaviviridae family, it has been suggested by analogy that HCV encodes class II fusion proteins and that E2 is the fusion protein. Nevertheless, the recent crystal structures of E2 revealed that it lacks structural features of class II fusion proteins. Thus, E1 glycoprotein became under the spotlight with the assumption that it is responsible for the fusion step whether alone or with the help of E2. Indeed, the N-terminal part of E1 ectodomain was recently crystallized, and the characterization of conserved residues within this region demonstrated its importance for virus infectivity, E1E2 interaction as well as its involvement in the interplay with HCV receptors. Supporting the potential role of E1 in the fusion process, different segments in the C-terminal of the ectodomain have been reported to be involved in interactions with model membranes. In particular, we investigated two regions of interest. The first one located in the putative fusion peptide (PFP) region between amino acid 270 and 291, containing hydrophobic sequences, supporting its involvement in the fusion step. The second region spanning amino acids 314-342, a membranotropic region located proximal to the transmembrane region of E1 and has been shown by X-ray crystallography and NMR-studies to comprise two α-helices (α2 and α3). We introduced 22 mutations in the C-terminal part of E1 ectodomain in the context of a JFH1 infectious clone. We replaced the most conserved residues with alanine and analyzed the effect of the mutations on the viral life cycle. Twenty out of the 22 mutants were either attenuated or lost their infectivity, indicating their importance for the viral life cycle. We observed different phenotypes; some mutations modulated the dependence of the virus on CLDN1 and SRBI receptors for cellular entry. Most mutations in the PFP region affected virus secretion and assembly as well as E1E2 heterodimerization. Nevertheless, the majority of mutations in the α2-helix (aa 315-324) led to severe attenuation or complete loss of infectivity without affecting E1E2 folding or viral morphogenesis. Further characterization of some mutants within this region suggested the involvement of the α2-helix in a late step of HCV entry. Finally, our results show the important role of E1 played in E1E2 heterodimerization, virus morphogenesis, interaction with HCV receptors and its potential involvement in the fusion step.
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Rehab Moustafa. Characterization of functional determinants in the C-terminal part of hepatitis C virus E1 glycoprotein ectodomain. Human health and pathology. Université du Droit et de la Santé - Lille II, 2019. English. ⟨NNT : 2019LIL2S002⟩. ⟨tel-02166190⟩

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