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Identification of novel RNA secondary structures within the hepatitis C virus genome reveals a cooperative involvement in genome packaging

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JournalScientific Reports
DateAccepted/In press - 19 Feb 2016
DatePublished (current) - 14 Mar 2016
Volume6
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The specific packaging of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) genome is hypothesised to be driven by Core-RNA interactions. To identify the regions of the viral genome involved in this process, we used SELEX (systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment) to identify RNA aptamers which bind specifically to Core in vitro. Comparison of these aptamers to multiple HCV genomes revealed the presence of a conserved terminal loop motif within short RNA stem-loop structures. We postulated that interactions of these motifs, as well as sub-motifs which were present in HCV genomes at statistically significant levels, with the Core protein may drive virion assembly. We mutated 8 of these predicted motifs within the HCV infectious molecular clone JFH-1, thereby producing a range of mutant viruses predicted to possess altered RNA secondary structures. RNA replication and viral titre were unaltered in viruses possessing only one mutated structure. However, infectivity titres were decreased in viruses possessing a higher number of mutated regions. This work thus identified multiple novel RNA motifs which appear to contribute to genome packaging. We suggest that these structures act as cooperative packaging signals to drive specific RNA encapsidation during HCV assembly.

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