Function follows form: The structure of the N-terminal domain of HCV NS5A


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a human pathogen affecting nearly 3% of the world's population. Chronic infections can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The RNA replication machine of HCV is a multi-subunit membrane-associated complex. The nonstructural protein NS5A is an active component of HCV replicase, as well as a pivotal regulator of replication and a modulator of cellular processes ranging from innate immunity to dysregulated cell growth. NS5A is a large phosphoprotein (56-58 kd) with an amphipathic α-helix at its amino terminus that promotes membrane association. After this helix region, NS5A is organized into 3 domains. The N-terminal domain (domain I) coordinates a single zinc atom per protein molecule. Mutations disrupting either the membrane anchor or zinc binding of NS5A are lethal for RNA replication. However, probing the role of NS5A in replication has been hampered by a lack of structural information about this multifunctional protein. Here we report the structure of NS5A domain I at 2.5-Å resolution, which contains a novel fold, a new zinc-coordination motif, and a disulfide bond. We use molecular surface analysis to suggest the location of protein-, RNA-, and membrane-interaction sites.