Activity of purified hepatitis C virus protease NS3 on peptide substrates

Christian Steinkühler, Andrea Urbani, Licia Tomei, Gabriella Biasiol, Mohinder Sardana, Elisabetta Bianchi, Antonello Pessi, Raffaele De Francesco

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The protease domain of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) protein NS3 was expressed in Escherichia coli, purified to homogeneity, and shown to be active on peptides derived from the sequence of the NS4A-NS4B junction. Experiments were carried out to optimize protease activity. Buffer requirements included the presence of detergent, glycerol, and dithiothreitol, pH between 7.5 and 8.5, and low ionic strength. C- and N- terminal deletion experiments defined a peptide spanning from the P6 to the P4' residue as a suitable substrate. Cleavage kinetics were subsequently measured by using decamer P6-P4' peptides corresponding to all intermolecular cleavage sites of the HCV polyprotein. The following order of cleavage efficiency, in terms of k(cat)/K(m), was determined: NS5A-NS5B > NS4A-NS4B >> NS4B-NS5A. A 14-mer peptide containing residues 21 to 34 of the protease cofactor NS4A (Pep4A(21-34), when added in stoichiometric amounts, was shown to increase cleavage rates of all peptides, the largest effect (100-fold) being observed on the hydrolysis of the NS4B-NS5A decamer. From the kinetic analysis of cleavage data, we conclude that (i) primary structure is an important determinant of the efficiency with which each site is cleaved during polyprotein processing, (ii) slow cleavage of the NS4B-NS5A site in the absence of NS4A is due to low binding affinity of the enzyme for this site, and (iii) formation of a l:l complex between the protease and Pep4A(21- 34) is sufficient and required for maximum activation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6694-6700
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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