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Identification of Cellular Factors Associated with the 3′-Nontranslated Region of the Hepatitis C Virus Genome*

  • Dylan Harris
    Affiliations
    From the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Centre for the Study of Emerging and Re-emerging Pathogens, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey 07103
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  • Zhengbin Zhang
    Affiliations
    From the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Centre for the Study of Emerging and Re-emerging Pathogens, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey 07103
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  • Binay Chaubey
    Affiliations
    From the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Centre for the Study of Emerging and Re-emerging Pathogens, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey 07103
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  • Virendra N. Pandey
    Correspondence
    To whom correspondence should be addressed: Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Centre for the Study of Emerging and Re-emerging Pathogens, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, 185 South Orange Ave., Newark, NJ 07103. Tel.: 973-972-0660; Fax: 973-972-5594;
    Affiliations
    From the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Centre for the Study of Emerging and Re-emerging Pathogens, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey 07103
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  • Author Footnotes
    1 The abbreviations used are: HCV, hepatitis C virus; 3′-NTR, 3′-nontranslated region; 3′-UTR, 3′-untranslated region; ARE, A/U-rich element; siRNA, small interfering RNA; PTB, polypyrimidine tract-binding protein; RNP, ribonucleoprotein; hnRNP, heterogeneous nu-clear ribonucleoprotein; MP, mobile phase; KH, K homology; RRM, RNA recognition motif; HIV, human immunodeficiency virus; HIV-1, human immunodeficiency virus, type 1; PSF, PTB-associated splicing factor; FUSE, far upstream element; RHA, RNA helicase; FBP, far upstream element-binding protein.
    * This work was supported in part by NIAID, National Institutes of Health Grant AI42520.
      Chronic infection by hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the leading cause of severe hepatitis that often develops into liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. The molecular mechanisms underlying HCV replication and pathogenesis are poorly understood. Similarly, the role(s) of host factors in the replication of HCV remains largely undefined. Based on our knowledge of other RNA viruses, it is likely that a number of cellular factors may be involved in facilitating HCV replication. It has been demonstrated that elements within the 3′-nontranslated region (3′-NTR) of the (+) strand HCV genome are essential for initiation of (−) strand synthesis. The RNA signals within the highly conserved 3′-NTR may be the site for recruiting cellular factors that mediate virus replication/pathogenesis. However, the identities of putative cellular factors interacting with these RNA signals remain unknown. In this report, we demonstrate that an RNA affinity capture system developed in our laboratory used in conjunction with LC/MS/MS allowed us to positively identify more than 70 cellular proteins that interact with the 3′-NTR (+) of HCV. Binding of these cellular proteins was not competed out by a 10-fold excess of nonspecific competitor RNA. With few exceptions, all of the identified cellular proteins are RNA-binding proteins whose reported cellular functions provide unique insights into host cell-virus interactions and possible mechanisms influencing HCV replication and HCV-associated pathogenesis. Small interfering RNA-mediated silencing of selected 3′-NTR-binding proteins in an HCV replicon cell line reduced replicon RNA to undetectable levels, suggesting important roles for these cellular factors in HCV replication.
      More than a decade ago, hepatitis C virus (HCV)
      The abbreviations used are: HCV, hepatitis C virus; 3′-NTR, 3′-nontranslated region; 3′-UTR, 3′-untranslated region; ARE, A/U-rich element; siRNA, small interfering RNA; PTB, polypyrimidine tract-binding protein; RNP, ribonucleoprotein; hnRNP, heterogeneous nu-clear ribonucleoprotein; MP, mobile phase; KH, K homology; RRM, RNA recognition motif; HIV, human immunodeficiency virus; HIV-1, human immunodeficiency virus, type 1; PSF, PTB-associated splicing factor; FUSE, far upstream element; RHA, RNA helicase; FBP, far upstream element-binding protein.
      was discovered as the major causative agent of parenteral non-A non-B hepatitis (
      • Choo Q.L.
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      Isolation of a cDNA clone derived from a blood-borne non-A, non-B viral hepatitis genome.
      ,
      • Yap S.H.
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      Hepatitis C and its causative agent.
      ), and the number of HCV-infected individuals worldwide is currently estimated at 170 million. Although some infected individuals are able to clear the virus without treatment, most infections persist leading in about 50% of all cases to chronic hepatitis, which may develop into chronic active hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. The main therapeutic regimen currently in clinical use is a combination treatment consisting of high doses of interferon-α and the nucleoside analog ribavirin, and a large percentage of patients receiving this regimen are not responsive. These stark facts underscore the importance of expediently developing new strategies to combat this viral infection.
      The hepatitis C virus is a positive strand RNA virus of the flaviviridae family having a genome roughly 9.6 kb in length (
      • Major M.E.
      • Feinstone S.M.
      The molecular virology of hepatitis C.
      ). The RNA genome contains a single ORF that encodes a polyprotein of ∼3000 amino acids that is processed by a combination of host- and virus-encoded proteases (
      • Di Bisceglie A.M.
      • McHutchison J.
      • Rice C.M.
      New therapeutic strategies for hepatitis C.
      ) into four structural proteins (core, E1, E2, and p7) and six nonstructural (NS2, NS3, NS4A, NS4B, NS5A, and NS5B) proteins. Replication of HCV is initiated at the 3′-NTR of the RNA genome, although little is known about the mechanism of initiation or the factors required for this process. The NS5B protein is the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, or HCV replicase, responsible for replication of the HCV genome whose structure and enzymatic activities have been well characterized (
      • Ferrari E.
      • Wright-Minogue J.
      • Fang J.W.
      • Baroudy B.M.
      • Lau J.Y.
      • Hong Z.
      Characterization of soluble hepatitis C virus RNA-dependent RNA polymerase expressed in Escherichia coli.
      ,
      • Oh J.W.
      • Ito T.
      • Lai M.M.
      A recombinant hepatitis C virus RNA-dependent RNA polymerase capable of copying the full-length viral RNA.
      ). Although it has been established that NS5B can initiate primer-independent RNA synthesis, the mechanistic details of this process remain the source of some controversy (
      • Oh J.W.
      • Sheu G.T.
      • Lai M.M.
      Template requirement and initiation site selection by hepatitis C virus polymerase on a minimal viral RNA template.
      ,
      • Kim M.
      • Kim H.
      • Cho S.P.
      • Min M.K.
      Template requirements for de novo RNA synthesis by hepatitis C virus nonstructural protein 5B polymerase on the viral X RNA.
      ,
      • Shim J.H.
      • Larson G.
      • Wu J.Z.
      • Hong Z.
      Selection of 3′-template bases and initiating nucleotides by hepatitis C virus NS5B RNA-dependent RNA polymerase.
      ). Hong et al. (
      • Hong Z.
      • Cameron C.E.
      • Walker M.P.
      • Castro C.
      • Yao N.
      • Lau J.Y.
      • Zhong W.
      A novel mechanism to ensure terminal initiation by hepatitis C virus NS5B polymerase.
      ) have proposed that a structural motif within NS5B positions the terminal nucleotides of the genome in such a way that de novo synthesis is initiated from the 3′-end of the genome. The initiation of HCV virus replication may very well involve the aid of cellular factors in this process. As discussed below, cellular factors that bind the 3′-NTR of HCV may also regulate viral RNA stability, transport, and localization.
      Until recently, there was no system for studying HCV replication under in vivo conditions other than in the chimpanzee. Therefore, examining the precise role(s) of either RNA signals or proteins involved in replication presented a formidable challenge. Lohmann et al. (
      • Lohmann V.
      • Korner F.
      • Koch J.
      • Herian U.
      • Theilmann L.
      • Bartenschlager R.
      Replication of subgenomic hepatitis C virus RNAs in a hepatoma cell line.
      ) were the first to report development of a subgenomic HCV dicistronic RNA that replicated efficiently in cell culture. Subsequently other groups also reported that subgenomic replicons of HCV were maintained in cell culture systems, some of which revealed adaptive mutations in NS3, NS5A, and NS5B that further enhanced replication capacity (
      • Krieger N.
      • Lohmann V.
      • Bartenschlager R.
      Enhancement of hepatitis C virus RNA replication by cell culture-adaptive mutations.
      ,
      • Blight K.J.
      • Kolykhalov A.A.
      • Rice C.M.
      Efficient initiation of HCV RNA replication in cell culture.
      ,
      • Blight K.J.
      • McKeating J.A.
      • Rice C.M.
      Highly permissive cell lines for subgenomic and genomic hepatitis C virus RNA replication.
      ). Therefore, it is now possible to study various aspects of HCV replication and pathogenesis in cell culture, although the absence of the HCV structural genes in the subgenomic replicons prevents a comprehensive view of HCV biology and virus-host interactions. The replicon system has been used to identify conserved regions in the 3′-NTR of HCV required for viral replication (
      • Kolykhalov A.A.
      • Mihalik K.
      • Feinstone S.M.
      • Rice C.M.
      Hepatitis C virus-encoded enzymatic activities and conserved RNA elements in the 3′ nontranslated region are essential for virus replication in vivo.
      ,
      • Yi M.
      • Lemon S.M.
      3′ nontranslated RNA signals required for replication of hepatitis C virus RNA.
      ,
      • Friebe P.
      • Bartenschlager R.
      Genetic analysis of sequences in the 3′ nontranslated region of hepatitis C virus that are important for RNA replication.
      ), although the exact function(s) of these RNA signals remains unclear.
      The conserved nontranslated 5′- and 3′-terminal regions of the viral genome have multiple regulatory elements that are essential for viral replication and expression of viral genes. Although the 5′-NTR of HCV contains the internal ribosomal entry site required for cap-independent translation of HCV RNA (
      • Tsukiyama-Kohara K.
      • Iizuka N.
      • Kohara M.
      • Nomoto A.
      Internal ribosome entry site within hepatitis C virus RNA.
      ), the 3′-NTR is also predicted to be highly structured (Fig. 1) and is the site for initiation of viral replication (
      • Oh J.W.
      • Sheu G.T.
      • Lai M.M.
      Template requirement and initiation site selection by hepatitis C virus polymerase on a minimal viral RNA template.
      ). In addition to proteins associated with the translational machinery, several proteins have been reported to interact with the 5′-NTR, including polypyrimidine tract-binding protein (PTB) (
      • Ali N.
      • Siddiqui A.
      Interaction of polypyrimidine tract-binding protein with the 5′ noncoding region of the hepatitis C virus RNA genome and its functional requirement in internal initiation of translation.
      ,
      • Anwar A.
      • Ali N.
      • Tanveer R.
      • Siddiqui A.
      Demonstration of functional requirement of polypyrimidine tract-binding protein by SELEX RNA during hepatitis C virus internal ribosome entry site-mediated translation initiation.
      ,
      • Ito T.
      • Lai M.M.
      An internal polypyrimidine-tract-binding protein-binding site in the hepatitis C virus RNA attenuates translation, which is relieved by the 3′-untranslated sequence.
      ), La autoantigen (
      • Das S.
      • Ott M.
      • Yamane A.
      • Tsai W.
      • Gromeier M.
      • Lahser F.
      • Gupta S.
      • Dasgupta A.
      A small yeast RNA blocks hepatitis C virus internal ribosome entry site (HCV IRES)-mediated translation and inhibits replication of a chimeric poliovirus under translational control of the HCV IRES element.
      ), nucleolin (
      • Izumi R.E.
      • Valdez B.
      • Banerjee R.
      • Srivastava M.
      • Dasgupta A.
      Nucleolin stimulates viral internal ribosome entry site-mediated translation.
      ), and EIF2Bγ (
      • Kruger M.
      • Beger C.
      • Li Q.X.
      • Welch P.J.
      • Tritz R.
      • Leavitt M.
      • Barber J.R.
      • Wong-Staal F.
      Identification of eIF2Bγ and eIF2γ as cofactors of hepatitis C virus internal ribosome entry site-mediated translation using a functional genomics approach.
      ). Previous investigations have also reported some cellular proteins associated with the 3′-NTR of HCV, namely PTB, (
      • Ito T.
      • Lai M.M.
      Determination of the secondary structure of and cellular protein binding to the 3′-untranslated region of the hepatitis C virus RNA genome.
      ,
      • Tsuchihara K.
      • Tanaka T.
      • Hijikata M.
      • Kuge S.
      • Toyoda H.
      • Nomoto A.
      • Yamamoto N.
      • Shimotohno K.
      Specific interaction of polypyrimidine tract-binding protein with the extreme 3′-terminal structure of the hepatitis C virus genome, the 3′X.
      ,
      • Chung R.T.
      • Kaplan L.M.
      Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein I (hnRNP-I/PTB) selectively binds the conserved 3′ terminus of hepatitis C viral RNA.
      ) heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein C (hnRNP C) (
      • Gontarek R.R.
      • Gutshall L.L.
      • Herold K.M.
      • Tsai J.
      • Sathe G.M.
      • Mao J.
      • Prescott C.
      • Del Vecchio A.M.
      hnRNP C and polypyrimidine tract-binding protein specifically interact with the pyrimidine-rich region within the 3′NTR of the HCV RNA genome.
      ), La autoantigen (
      • Spangberg K.
      • Goobar-Larsson L.
      • Wahren-Herlenius M.
      • Schwartz S.
      The La protein from human liver cells interacts specifically with the U-rich region in the hepatitis C virus 3′ untranslated region.
      ,
      • Spangberg K.
      • Wiklund L.
      • Schwartz S.
      Binding of the La autoantigen to the hepatitis C virus 3′ untranslated region protects the RNA from rapid degradation in vitro.
      ), and HuR protein (
      • Spangberg K.
      • Wiklund L.
      • Schwartz S.
      HuR, a protein implicated in oncogene and growth factor mRNA decay, binds to the 3′ ends of hepatitis C virus RNA of both polarities.
      ). In efforts to elucidate the structure and composition of the nucleoprotein complex at the 3′-NTR of HCV, we developed a novel RNA affinity capture system in which a biotinylated oligonucleotide is annealed to one end of a runoff transcript corresponding to the (+) strand 3′-NTR of HCV. Subsequent immobilization of this partial duplex on paramagnetic streptavidin-coated beads and incubation with hepatocyte extracts allowed us to isolate cellular proteins bound to the 3′-NTR RNA. One-dimensional SDS-PAGE followed by tryptic digest of selected bands and LC/MS/MS analysis positively identified more than 70 cellular proteins that bind with high affinity to the 3′-NTR of HCV. Although some of the proteins we identified may represent irrelevant interactions with the HCV RNA, some have already been implicated in the life cycles of other viruses, and yet others surely represent novel insights into the protein machinery utilized by HCV in its replication strategy.
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Fig. 1The predicted secondary structure of HCV 3′-NTR (+). The 3′-NTR contains three structurally distinct domains: (i) an upstream variable region folded into two stem-loop structures designated as VSL1 and VSL2, (ii) a large poly(U)/UC tract, and (iii) a highly conserved 98-nucleotide 3′-terminal segment that forms three stem-loop structures designated as SL1, SL2, and SL3. Both poly(U)/UC tract and 98-nucleotide conserved segments are required for infectivity (
      • Kolykhalov A.A.
      • Mihalik K.
      • Feinstone S.M.
      • Rice C.M.
      Hepatitis C virus-encoded enzymatic activities and conserved RNA elements in the 3′ nontranslated region are essential for virus replication in vivo.
      ,
      • Yanagi M.
      • St Claire M.
      • Emerson S.U.
      • Purcell R.H.
      • Bukh J.
      In vivo analysis of the 3′ untranslated region of the hepatitis C virus after in vitro mutagenesis of an infectious cDNA clone.
      ) and viral replication (
      • Yi M.
      • Lemon S.M.
      3′ nontranslated RNA signals required for replication of hepatitis C virus RNA.
      ,
      • Friebe P.
      • Bartenschlager R.
      Genetic analysis of sequences in the 3′ nontranslated region of hepatitis C virus that are important for RNA replication.
      ).

      EXPERIMENTAL PROCEDURES

       Plasmids and Oligonucleotides

      A 243-bp fragment of the 3′-terminal region of the HCV genome (
      • Yanagi M.
      • St Claire M.
      • Emerson S.U.
      • Purcell R.H.
      • Bukh J.
      In vivo analysis of the 3′ untranslated region of the hepatitis C virus after in vitro mutagenesis of an infectious cDNA clone.
      ) was cloned in the pET3b vector (Novagen, Inc.) 65 nucleotides downstream of the T7 promoter in between NdeI and BamHI sites to generate pVP506. The transcript prepared after linearizing pVP506 with BamHI contains an additional 65-nucleotide flanking sequence derived from the plasmid upstream of the 3′-NTR. For hybridization to the 5′-flanking sequences of the 3′-NTR runoff transcript, we synthesized a 39-mer oligonucleotide with the sequence 5′-GTA TAT CTC CTT CTT AAA GTT AAA CAA AAT TAT TTC TAG-3′ having biotin conjugated to the 3′-terminal G nucleotide.

       Preparation of Transcripts

      The 308-base 3′-NTR runoff transcripts were generated following linearization of the pVP506 plasmid with BamHI using the T7 transcription kit from Roche Applied Science. The 311-base transcripts encoding the 3′-untranslated region of the human collagen gene COL1A2 were prepared using SP6 RNA polymerase (Invitrogen) following linearization of the plasmid (
      • Natalizio B.J.
      • Muniz L.C.
      • Arhin G.K.
      • Wilusz J.
      • Lutz C.S.
      Upstream elements present in the 3′-untranslated region of collagen genes influence the processing efficiency of overlapping polyadenylation signals.
      ) with PstI. Following treatment with RNase-free DNase I to remove template DNA, the RNA was precipitated with lithium chloride and resuspended and stored in RNase-free water containing 40 units/ml SUPERaseIN RNase inhibitor (Ambion) at −80 °C.

       Cell Culture and Preparation of Hepatocyte Cell Extracts

      Huh7 and En5-3 cells, a clonal cell line derived from Huh7 (
      • Yi M.
      • Bodola F.
      • Lemon S.M.
      Subgenomic hepatitis C virus replicons inducing expression of a secreted enzymatic reporter protein.
      ), were grown in Dulbecco’s modified Eagle’s medium supplemented with 10% fetal calf serum, 2 μg/ml blasticidin (Invitrogen), penicillin, and streptomycin. Cell extracts from hepatocytes (Huh7 or En5-3) were prepared using the procedure of Dignam et al. (
      • Dignam J.D.
      • Lebovitz R.M.
      • Roeder R.G.
      Accurate transcription initiation by RNA polymerase II in a soluble extract from isolated mammalian nuclei.
      ) and stored under liquid nitrogen. Briefly cells were homogenized in 250 mm sucrose, 10 mm HEPES (pH 8.0), 2 mm PMSF, 50 mg/ml antipain, 0.5 mg/ml leupeptin, 0.7 mg/ml pepstatin. For subfractionation of cell homogenate, the homogenate was centrifuged successively at 3000 × g, 10,000 × g, and 50,000 × g, and the 10,000 × g and 50,000 × g pellets were suspended in buffer containing 0.5% Nonidet P-40 for 1 h at 4 °C and then centrifuged at 10,000 × g and 50,000 × g, respectively. The supernatants were dialyzed against 20 mm HEPES, pH 8.0, 0.5 mm DTT, 0.5 mm PMSF, 10% glycerol at 4 °C for 3–5 h. The 10,000 × g extract was stored as mitochondrial extract, whereas the 50,000 × g extract was stored as endoplasmic reticulum extract and stored under liquid nitrogen. Supernatant from the post-50,000 × g fraction (soluble cytosolic fraction) was used in the binding experiments. Protein concentrations in each extract were determined by Bradford assay (Bio-Rad).

       RNA Affinity Capture Experiments

      For small scale experiments we used 20 μl of En5-3 cell extract, 75 μl of the streptavidin-coated paramagnetic bead suspension (Dynal, Inc.), and 100 pmol of RNA:39-mer duplex. The experiments scaled up for proteomic analysis were 5× for each of these constituents. Briefly the 3′-NTR runoff transcript was annealed to the 5′-biotin-labeled 39-mer DNA oligonucleotide. The streptavidin bead preservative solution was removed by magnetic separation, beads were washed two times with binding buffer containing 1× protease inhibitor mixture (mini-EDTA-free, Roche Applied Science), 1 mm DTT, 100 mm NaCl, 20 mm HEPES, pH 7.5, 20 units/ml SUPERaseIN (Ambion) and were mixed with the RNA:39-mer duplex. This mixture was incubated on ice in binding buffer for 30 min to immobilize the RNA:39-mer duplex on the beads. The buffer solution was removed, and En5-3 cell extracts were then mixed with the beads to capture proteins binding the 3′-NTR RNA. Beads were incubated with the cell extracts on ice for a total of 1 h with occasional gentle vortexing. For competition experiments, a 10-fold molar excess of MS2 RNA (Roche Applied Science) was added to the cell extracts prior to incubation with the beads, and for poly(rU) competition, a 2–16-fold molar excess of polyuridylic acid (Amersham Biosciences, average length = 250 nucleotides) was added. Competition experiments with 3′-UTR RNA of human collagen gene were also performed by addition of the competitor (20–100 pmol) to the cell extracts prior to incubation with NTR-bound beads. After the incubation, beads were washed three times with the binding buffer. Elution was done by adding 30 μl of binding buffer and 30 μl of 2× SDS gel loading dye to washed beads and heating at 95 °C for 5 min prior to magnetic separation of beads from eluted proteins. Samples were resolved by 8–16% gradient SDS-PAGE, and the gel was stained with SYPRO Ruby dye (Molecular Probes, Inc.) for visualization of protein bands, which were excised for tryptic digest.

       Tryptic Digest and Mass Spectrometry

      Circular cores of gel bands were excised and placed in a 96-well TecPro plate (Tecan) containing 100 μl of Milli-Q water for processing in an automated protocol on the Tecan GENESIS instrument. Gel pieces were washed two times with 50 mm ammonium bicarbonate in 30% acetonitrile. Reduction was done by incubating gel pieces for 30 min at 37 °C in solution containing 10 mm DTT, 50 mm ammonium bicarbonate, 30% acetonitrile. Subsequently alkylation was done by incubating gel pieces for 30 min at 37 °C in solution containing 45 mm iodoacetamide, 50 mm ammonium bicarbonate, 30% acetonitrile. Gel pieces were then dehydrated by washing two times with 80% acetonitrile and drying at 60 °C for 10 min. Dried gel pieces were subjected to trypsin digest by adding solution containing 50 mm ammonium bicarbonate, 10 ng/ml trypsin (Trypsin Promega Gold MS grade). Following a 2-h incubation at 37 °C for digestion, reactions were adjusted to 1% trifluoroacetic acid for extraction of peptides from the gel, and the liquid phase was eluted through the capillaries in the bottom of the TecPro plate. A Micromass CapLC system was coupled with a Waters UH104 Q-TOF instrument to perform the LC/MS/MS analysis. A 300-μm C18 precolumn and 15-cm, 75-μm-inner diameter C18 nano-LC column were purchased from LC Packings. 15-μl in-gel digested samples were concentrated by spinning in an Eppendorf Vacufuge for 15 min to reduce the volume to ∼7 μl of which 6.4 μl was injected onto a precolumn without further purification at a flow rate of 20 μl/min. Peptides held on the precolumn were eluted onto the nano-LC column at a flow rate of 4 μl/min. The composition of MP A and MP B were 0.1% formic acid in 98:2 H2O:ACN and 5:95 H2O:ACN solvent, respectively. A 36-min gradient with MP B increasing from 3 to 45% was used to separate the peptides. The scan times for MS and MS/MS experiments were 1.5 and 2.0 s, respectively. Multiply charged ions with MS intensity higher than 15 counts were automatically chosen for MS/MS. In the case that there were many ions with intensity higher than 15 counts, the number of ions chosen for MS/MS simultaneously was set to 3. For a certain ion, when either total ion current of MS/MS was over 2500 counts or total MS/MS scan time was over 6.0 s, the Q-TOF instrument automatically switched from MS/MS mode to MS mode. Following data acquisition, ProteinLynx 2.1 from Waters was used to process and generate the peaklist file, and both ProteinLynx 2.1 and Mascot were used for database searching. Only proteins with a protein score >100 and at least two matching peptides were considered positively identified proteins.

       siRNA Experiments

       Sequences of siRNAs Used—

      Sequences of siRNAs were as follows: Ddx5: sense, 5′-GGG UUC UAA AUG AAU UCA Att-3′; antisense, 5′-UUG AAU UCA UUU AGA ACC Cag-3′ (Qiagen); HuR: siRNA used was HiPerformance Validated from Qiagen catalog number SI00300139; FBP: sense, 5′-GGG ACA UCA CUG A AU UCA Att-3′; antisense, 5′-UUG AAU UCA GUG AUG UCC Ctg-3′ (Ambion); control siRNA: sense, 5′-UUC UCC GAA C GU GUC ACG Utt-3′; antisense, 5′-ACG UGA CAC GUU CGG AGA Att-3′ (Qiagen).

       Primer Sequences Used for RT-PCR—

      Primer sequences used were as follows: HCV 5′-NTR: forward, 5′-CGG GAG AGC CAT AGT GG-3′; reverse, 5′-AGT ACC ACA AGG CCT TTC G-3′; actin: forward, 5′-CAG GCA CCA GGG CGT GAT GG-3′; reverse, 5′-AGG CGT ACA GGG ATA GCA CA-3′.

       HCV Subgenomic Replicon and Cell Line—

      MH 14 cells (a kind gift from Dr. Makoto Hijikata) carrying replicating HCV replicons were grown in Dulbecco’s modified Eagle’s medium (Cellgrow) supplemented with 10% fetal calf serum, 100 μg/ml penicillin, 100 μg/ml streptomycin, 300 μg/ml G418. The cells (2 × 105/well) were grown in a 6-well plate for 24 h and then transfected with 20 nm siRNAs targeted against Ddx5, FBP, and HuR following the manufacturer’s protocol using siPort amine as the transfection reagent (Ambion). The transfected cells were further grown for 72 h. In one set, the cells were washed, lysed, and analyzed for total protein (BCA protein assay, Pierce). An equal quantity of protein from each set was used for Western blot analysis. Another set of cells were processed for the isolation of total mRNA and subsequent RT-PCR analysis for HCV RNA and actin mRNA.

      RESULTS

       RNA Affinity Capture Is a Robust Tool for Characterizing 3′-NTR-Protein Interactions—

      Traditional methods for characterizing RNA-protein interactions, such as UV cross-linking and RNA gel mobility shift assays (
      • Thomson A.M.
      • Rogers J.T.
      • Walker C.E.
      • Staton J.M.
      • Leedman P.J.
      Optimized RNA gel-shift and UV cross-linking assays for characterization of cytoplasmic RNA-protein interactions.
      ), can provide interesting information regarding size and other biophysical properties of RNA-interacting proteins but cannot provide identity information without additional analysis. Therefore, these techniques represent unnecessary intermediate steps when the ultimate objective is the identification of RNA-associated proteins. Although DNA affinity capture has been used to isolate cellular proteins associated with specific sequences (
      • Bane T.K.
      • LeBlanc J.F.
      • Lee T.D.
      • Riggs A.D.
      DNA affinity capture and protein profiling by SELDI-TOF mass spectrometry: effect of DNA methylation.
      ) and a strategy similar to ours has been used to isolate RNP complexes from cells harboring subgenomic HCV replicons (
      • Waris G.
      • Sarker S.
      • Siddiqui A.
      Two-step affinity purification of the hepatitis C virus ribonucleoprotein complex.
      ), this technique has not been successfully applied to comprehensive protein profiling of complexes formed with specific viral RNA species. Prior methods for biotinylation of RNA involve either cumbersome chemical modification and purification steps (
      • Richardson R.W.
      • Gumport R.I.
      Biotin and fluorescent labeling of RNA using T4 RNA ligase.
      ,
      • Igloi G.L.
      Nonradioactive labeling of RNA.
      ) or a random internal labeling of transcripts (
      • Huang F.
      • Wang G.
      • Coleman T.
      • Li N.
      Synthesis of adenosine derivatives as transcription initiators and preparation of 5′ fluorescein- and biotin-labeled RNA through one-step in vitro transcription.
      ) that results in a heterogenous population with regard to location(s) of the biotin label and that may disrupt important secondary structure within the RNA and diminish the availability of the RNA for specific association with proteins. By annealing a biotinylated oligonucleotide complementary to flanking sequences at the 5′-end of the HCV 3′-NTR RNA and then immobilizing on paramagnetic streptavidin beads (see “Experimental Procedures”), we overcame the need for labeling of the RNA, maintained the native structure of the target RNA trap, and facilitated its association with interacting cellular proteins. This strategy is outlined in Fig. 2.
      Figure thumbnail gr2
      Fig. 2Scheme for RNA affinity capture of cellular proteins interacting with HCV 3′-NTR.

       Binding of Cellular Protein to HCV 3′-NTR in the Presence of Competitor RNAs—

      Because the 3′-NTR of HCV may serve a function similar to that of the 3′-untranslated regions (3′-UTRs) of some cellular mRNAs, such as regulating RNA stability, we reasoned that binding of proteins to the 3′-NTR of HCV might be competed out by addition of a cellular mRNA 3′-UTR to the binding reactions. We performed an experiment in which NTR RNA was incubated with the cytosolic fraction of the cell extract in the presence of 3′-UTR RNA of the human collagen gene (
      • Natalizio B.J.
      • Muniz L.C.
      • Arhin G.K.
      • Wilusz J.
      • Lutz C.S.
      Upstream elements present in the 3′-untranslated region of collagen genes influence the processing efficiency of overlapping polyadenylation signals.
      ) as a competitor at the ratio of 1:1 and 1:5 of 3′-NTR RNA:competitor RNA (Fig. 3A, lanes 2 and 3). In another set of binding reactions, we also included MS2 bacteriophage mRNA (Fig. 3A, lanes 4 and 5) as well as poly(rA) (Fig. 3A, lanes 6 and 7) as competitors. The 3′-NTR RNA annealed with biotinylated 39-mer oligonucleotide DNA along with individual competitor RNA(s) was incubated with the soluble cytosolic extract for 1 h on ice followed by selective trapping of the NTR RNA:39-mer DNA duplex on streptavidin beads. After extensive washing, beads were subjected to SDS-PAGE followed by staining with SYPRO Ruby dye. The intensity of proteins bound to HCV 3′-NTR RNA was actually increased in the presence of collagen 3′-UTR RNA, and this increase in intensity was correlated with the concentration of the competitor (Fig. 3A, lanes 2 and 3). Similar results were also obtained with MS2 bacteriophage mRNA and poly(rA) competitors.
      Figure thumbnail gr3
      Fig. 3RNA affinity capture in the presence and absence of competitor RNA.A, the RNA transcripts of the 3′-UTR of the human collagen gene, MS2 bacteriophage mRNA, and poly(rA) were used as competitor RNAs in the binding reaction. The HCV 3′-NTR RNA annealed with biotinylated 39-mer DNA oligonucleotide was incubated with cell extract on ice in the presence of individual competitor RNAs. After 1 h of incubation, the biotinylated 3′-NTR RNA:39-mer DNA duplex was immobilized on paramagnetic streptavidin beads, washed extensively with the binding buffer, and subjected to SDS-PAGE analysis. The gel was stained with SYPRO Ruby dye. Lane 1 shows cellular proteins captured on 3′-NTR RNA in the absence of competitor RNA; lanes 2 and 3, in the presence of 1- and 5-fold excess of collagen 3′-UTR RNA; lanes 4 and 5, in the presence of 1- and 5-fold excess of MS2 mRNA; and lanes 6 and 7, in the presence of 1- and 5-fold excess of poly(rA), respectively. Lane 8 represent incubation of streptavidin beads alone with the cell extract. The molecular markers are shown on the left in A. B, all the components of the competition experiment with collagen 3′-UTR of A were scaled up to 2-fold, and the concentration of the competitor 3′-UTR as well as poly(U) was in excess of 1–10-fold over HCV 3′-NTR RNA. Lane 1, cellular proteins captured on 3′-NTR RNA in the absence of competitor; lanes 2–4, in the presence of 1-, 5-, and 10-fold excess of collagen 3′-UTR RNA; lanes 5 and 6, in the presence of 1-, 5-, and 10-fold excess of poly(U).
      In the next experiment, we repeated the competition experiment with 3′-UTR by scaling up the reaction components 2-fold. The ratio of HCV 3′-NTR RNA to collagen 3′-UTR RNA competitor was kept at 1:1, 1:5, and 1: 10 (Fig. 3B, lanes 2–4). We also included poly(rU) as the competitor at a similar ratio of the 3′-NTR RNA versus the competitor RNA (Fig. 3B, lanes 5–7). As shown in the figure, the binding intensity of NTR binders was significantly increased with the increase in the concentrations of collagen 3′-UTR as the competitor RNA. Some additional new bands were also seen in the presence of collagen 3′-UTR. In contrast, a strong competition by poly(U) was observed as most of the 3′-NTR binders are competed out in the presence of this competitor, suggesting that the poly(U)-U/C-rich region of 3′-NTR is a hot spot for binding of most of the cellular proteins. The enhanced binding of specific cellular proteins to HCV 3′-NTR in the presence of competitor RNAs (except in the presence of poly(U)) was unexpected but is not difficult to explain. In the absence of competitor RNA, nonspecific cellular proteins, which show appreciable binding to the 3′-NTR in the absence of competitor RNA, may interfere with binding of factors that bind specifically to the structure and/or sequence elements of the NTR RNA. These nonspecific proteins loosely associated with the 3′-NTR may be susceptible to removal during subsequent washing of the beads, whereas specific NTR binders may withstand these rigorous wash steps. This masking effect is reduced in the presence of competitor RNAs, which likely sequester the bulk of these nonspecific proteins and thus result in enhanced binding of the relevant NTR-associated factors that remain bound following washing and are visualized in the gel.

       Identification of Cellular Proteins Interacting with HCV 3′-NTR—

      For identification of specific cellular protein binding to the 3′-NTR, the experiment was scaled up 5-fold. The HCV 3′-NTR transcript immobilized on the beads was incubated with cytosolic cellular fraction from hepatic (Huh7) cells in the absence or presence of 10-fold excess of nonspecific MS2 bacteriophage as the competitor RNA. Following extensive washings, the cellular proteins bound to immobilized HCV 3′-NTR were solubilized and subjected to SDS-PAGE. As shown in Fig. 4 (lane 1), most of the cellular proteins captured on the 3′-NTR were resistant to competition by a nonspecific RNA from bacteriophage MS2 (lane 2). Our results demonstrate that this system can provide great specificity in the capture of RNA-binding proteins and adjusted to the appropriate scale yields sufficient protein mass for subsequent LC/MS/MS analysis. Alternative methods for RNA affinity capture are being developed in our laboratory for isolation of RNA-associated proteins under native conditions so that these proteins may be used in functional assays following affinity purification.
      Figure thumbnail gr4
      Fig. 4Preparative scale affinity capture and SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of cellular proteins interacting with HCV 3′-NTR (+). Paramagnetic streptavidin beads bound with biotinylated 39-mer oligonucleotide hybridized with the 3′-NTR transcript were incubated with cell extract in the presence and absence of 10-fold excess of total mRNA from bacteriophage MS2 as the competitor RNA for nonspecific proteins. The bound RNA-protein complex was trapped on paramagnetic streptavidin beads and extensively washed with binding buffer, and the bound RNA-protein complexes were subjected to SDS-PAGE on 8–16% gradient polyacrylamide gels and stained with SYPRO Ruby dye. Lanes 1 and 2 represent cellular proteins bound to 3′-NTR in the absence and presence of the competitor RNA, respectively. Molecular mass (kDa) of the marker proteins are shown on the left. The upper arrow indicates the position of a smaller isoform of PTB, and the lower arrow indicates the position of a smaller isoform of hnRNP A1, both of which were competed out in the presence of the competitor RNA. A major band seen at the 13-kDa position corresponds to the streptavidin component of the beads. STD, standard.
      The individual protein bands (Fig. 4, lane 2) were excised from the gel and processed for LC/MS/MS analysis to achieve the highest level of confidence in our identification. We used LC/MS/MS tandem mass spectrometric detection, which has the advantages of (i) separating tryptic peptides prior to mass spectrometric analysis, (ii) providing sequence information for fragmented peptides, and (iii) identifying proteins in protein mixtures. As shown in Fig. 5, LC/MS/MS analysis of individual protein bands revealed many different proteins bound to the 3′-NTR RNA. These proteins are listed in Table I with their accession number obtained from the protein database (NCBI). Many of these proteins belong to the hnRNP family of proteins, whereas others, such as Ku70, NF90, Y-box transcription factor, and RNA helicase A, represent quite a diverse set of cellular factors. We also confirmed earlier findings that reported the association of both PTB and hnRNP C with the 3′-NTR of HCV (
      • Ito T.
      • Lai M.M.
      Determination of the secondary structure of and cellular protein binding to the 3′-untranslated region of the hepatitis C virus RNA genome.
      ,
      • Gontarek R.R.
      • Gutshall L.L.
      • Herold K.M.
      • Tsai J.
      • Sathe G.M.
      • Mao J.
      • Prescott C.
      • Del Vecchio A.M.
      hnRNP C and polypyrimidine tract-binding protein specifically interact with the pyrimidine-rich region within the 3′NTR of the HCV RNA genome.
      ) as well as HuR protein (
      • Spangberg K.
      • Wiklund L.
      • Schwartz S.
      HuR, a protein implicated in oncogene and growth factor mRNA decay, binds to the 3′ ends of hepatitis C virus RNA of both polarities.
      ) and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (
      • Petrik J.
      • Parker H.
      • Alexander G.J.
      Human hepatic glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase binds to the poly (U) tract of the 3′ non-coding region of hepatitis C virus genomic RNA.
      ). A recent report describing the binding of NF90 to the 3′-NTR of bovine viral diarrhea virus (
      • Isken O.
      • Grassmann C.W.
      • Sarisky R.T.
      • Kann M.
      • Zhang S.
      • Grosse F.
      • Kao P.N.
      • Behrens S.E.
      Members of the NF90/NFAR protein group are involved in the life cycle of a positive-strand RNA virus.
      ) suggested a role for this protein in replication of positive strand RNA viruses, and we also identified this protein as binding to the 3′-NTR of HCV.
      Figure thumbnail gr5
      Fig. 5Proteomic analysis of cellular proteins captured on the 3′-NTR of HCV. The individual protein bands from lane 1 or lane 2 of were excised and trypsinized in situ, and the resulting tryptic peptides were subjected to LC/MS/MS as described under “Experimental Procedures.” Multiply charged ions with MS intensity higher than 15 counts were automatically chosen for MS/MS. Following data acquisition, ProteinLynx 2.1 from Waters was used to process and generate the peaklist (PKL) file, and both ProteinLynx 2.1 and Mascot were used for NCBI database searching. RNAP, RNA polymerase; HCC, hepatocellular carcinoma; G3P, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate; mCBP, murine poly(C)-binding protein.
      Table ICellular proteins bound to the 3′-NTR RNA transcript
      No.Cellular protein identifiedMolecular massAccession no.
      kDa
      1Similar to hnRNP A112.3gi-34879290
      2RNAP II co-activator p1514.3gi-1709514
      3Unnamed protein15.9gi-12845960
      4U2 snRNA auxiliary factor27.8gi-5803207
      5DNase I28.9gi-118922
      6Ribosomal protein29.9gi-306553
      7hnRNP A/B-related protein29.8gi-5052976
      8DNase I, chain D29.0gi-229691
      9A + U RNA binding factor30.1gi-2547076
      10p37 AUF131.4gi-433344
      11mCBP34.9gi-495128
      12Y-box-binding protein 135.7gi-112410
      13DNA-binding protein35.8gi-181914
      14HuR36.0gi-38201714
      15G3P dehydrogenase36.0gi-7669492
      16Similar to MGC3730936.3gi-34857163
      172610510D13Rik protein37.0gi-23274114
      18hnRNP X37.5gi-5453854
      19hnRNP A138.8gi-133254
      20β-Polymerase38.2gi-190156
      21Elongation factor 1-α39.6gi-4530096
      22α2-HS glycoprotein38.3gi-27806751
      23p40/AUF142.0gi-2773158
      24Nucleolysin TIA142.9gi-6094480
      25TRK-fused gene43.4gi-21361320
      26hnRNP K50.9gi-473912
      27hnRNP G47.4gi-542850
      28Colligin-246.5gi-2118393
      29Unnamed protein50.1gi-31092
      30TAR DNA-binding protein44.7gi-6678271
      31PTB 257.4gi-10863997
      32Splicing factor U2AF53.4gi-107723
      33Splicing factor homolog54.2gi-543010
      34Staufen protein55.2gi-4572588
      35Rod 156.4gi-4514554
      36Pyruvate kinase57.8gi-125598
      37Splicing factor cc1.358.8gi-4757926
      38PTB isoform a59.6gi-4506243
      39hnRNP L60.1gi4557645
      40HCC autoantigen61.8gi-4883681
      41RNA-binding protein KOC63.6gi-2105469
      42p68 RNA helicase (Ddx5)66.8gi-226021
      43M phase phosphoprotein66.7gi-1770458
      44hnRNP Q266.6gi-15809588
      45FBP67.4gi-1082624
      46EWS68.4gi-4885225
      47FUSE-binding protein 268.3gi-1575607
      48Ku7069.8gi-4503841
      49RNA binding motif protein 1469.4gi-5454064
      50Heat shock 70-kDa-like protein 170.6gi-1346319
      51HspA670.8gi-87626
      52Hsp7070.8gi-5729877
      53DEAD box protein 72 (Ddx17)72.3gi-3122595
      54Hsp A572.0gi-87528
      55DEAD box protein 3 (Ddx3)73.2gi-3023628
      56MTHSP7573.7gi-292059
      57PSF76.1gi-4826998
      58hnRNA-binding protein M477.5gi-479852
      59hnRNP U79.6gi-16041796
      60NF9082.7gi-5006602
      61DNA helicase II82.8gi-10863945
      62Lysine hydroxylase84.6gi-4505889
      63hnRNP U88.9gi-284156
      64DEAH box polypeptide (Ddx15)92.7gi-4557517
      65Matrin 394.5gi-21626466
      66E1B-AP595.7gi-7512403
      67RNA polymerase98.6gi-30387455
      68Golgi-associated particle102.4gi-486784
      69p30 DBC102.7gi-24432106
      70Poly(A) polymerase-1113.0gi-130781
      71RNA helicase A (Dhx9)140gi-3915658
      Interestingly we detected multiple isoforms of some proteins bound to the 3′-NTR RNA, and only certain isoforms were displaced from the NTR by nonspecific mRNA. For example, the 38-kDa form of hnRNP A1, the major component of band 3 (Fig. 5), was not dissociated from the NTR RNA in the presence of excess competitor RNA. However, a smaller isoform of hnRNP A1, found to be the major component of band 13 (Fig. 5), was efficiently displaced by the competitor RNA (Fig. 4, lower arrow). This observation, although initially perplexing, can be explained in the light of previous findings that demonstrate that the larger isoform has higher affinity for single-stranded DNA than the smaller isoform due to the presence of an additional nucleic acid binding domain contained within the C-terminal region (
      • Buvoli M.
      • Cobianchi F.
      • Bestagno M.G.
      • Mangiarotti A.
      • Bassi M.T.
      • Biamonti G.
      • Riva S.
      Alternative splicing in the human gene for the core protein A1 generates another hnRNP protein.
      ) absent in the smaller isoform. Similarly, we observed that a smaller isoform of PTB (
      • Gil A.
      • Sharp P.A.
      • Jamison S.F.
      • Garcia-Blanco M.A.
      Characterization of cDNAs encoding the polypyrimidine tract-binding protein.
      ,
      • Ghetti A.
      • Pinol-Roma S.
      • Michael W.M.
      • Morandi C.
      • Dreyfuss G.
      hnRNP I, the polypyrimidine tract-binding protein: distinct nuclear localization and association with hnRNAs.
      ), the major component of band 14 (Fig. 5), was efficiently competed out by the competitor RNA, whereas the larger isoforms (bands 9 and 10) were not displaced from the 3′-NTR RNA (Fig. 4, upper arrow).

       Silencing of RNA Helicase Expression Inhibits HCV Replication—

      RNA helicases are abundant in cells and serve diverse functions. There is recent evidence that some cellular RNA helicases influence replication of RNA viruses (
      • Fang J.
      • Kubota S.
      • Yang B.
      • Zhou N.
      • Zhang H.
      • Godbout R.
      • Pomerantz R.J.
      A DEAD box protein facilitates HIV-1 replication as a cellular co-factor of Rev.
      ,
      • Yedavalli V.S.
      • Neuveut C.
      • Chi Y.H.
      • Kleiman L.
      • Jeang K.T.
      Requirement of DDX3 DEAD box RNA helicase for HIV-1 Rev-RRE export function.
      ). We identified several RNA helicases associated with the 3′-NTR of HCV and selected two of these for further investigation into their possible influence on the replication of HCV replicons in a cell culture system. Using siRNA, we silenced expression of the RNA helicase p68 (Ddx5) and FBP, an ARE-binding protein also shown to possess RNA helicase activity. Additionally we silenced expression of HuR, an ARE-binding protein shown to stabilize cellular RNAs by binding to U-rich regions, (
      • Brennan C.M.
      • Steitz J.A.
      HuR and mRNA stability.
      ,
      • Lal A.
      • Mazan-Mamczarz K.
      • Kawai T.
      • Yang X.
      • Martindale J.L.
      • Gorospe M.
      Concurrent versus individual binding of HuR and AUF1 to common labile target mRNAs.
      ,
      • Peng S.S.
      • Chen C.Y.
      • Xu N.
      • Shyu A.B.
      RNA stabilization by the AU-rich element binding protein, HuR, an ELAV protein.
      ) and that has been shown previously to bind to the 3′-NTR of HCV (
      • Spangberg K.
      • Wiklund L.
      • Schwartz S.
      HuR, a protein implicated in oncogene and growth factor mRNA decay, binds to the 3′ ends of hepatitis C virus RNA of both polarities.
      ). The siRNA was delivered into MH 14 cells, a cell line carrying actively replicating HCV replicons. Fig. 6 shows that expression of Ddx5 and FBP was reduced by 75 and 80%, respectively, whereas expression of HuR was reduced by ∼50% as demonstrated by Western blotting analysis (lane 4) by the siRNA specifically targeting these three proteins. Neither control siRNA (lane 3) nor RNA transfection reagent alone (lane 2) had any influence on expression of these proteins. RT-PCR examining the presence of HCV replicon RNA (5′-NTR) revealed a direct correlation between the reduction in expression of the selected RNA helicase proteins and the reduction in HCV replicon RNA. In the case of HuR, the observed ∼50% reduction in protein expression also correlated well with the reduction in HCV replication. Actin RNA controls demonstrated that the loss of HCV RNA following the silencing of these two proteins is not a global effect or a result of cell death. These data suggest that each of these cellular proteins found to be associated with the 3′-NTR of HCV in our affinity capture assay are important for HCV replication. Although down-regulation of HuR expression resulted in a marginal inhibition of HCV replication as judged by RT-PCR, the magnitude of this inhibition was quite dramatic when expression of either FBP or p68 was silenced.
      Figure thumbnail gr6
      Fig. 6Inhibition of HCV replication by siRNA-mediated down-regulation of Ddx5, FBP, and HuR. A derivative of Huh7 cell lines (MH 14) carrying replicating HCV replicon were grown for 24 h and transfected with 20 nm anti-Ddx5, -FBP, and -HuR siRNA duplexes or with control siRNA duplexes. A mock transfection was also performed using only transfection reagent. Cells were grown for 72 h after transfection, and total protein and RNA were isolated. Lane 4 in A shows siRNA-mediated down-regulation of targeted host cell proteins as assessed by Western blotting and inhibition of HCV replication by RT-PCR (5′-NTR of the HCV genome). The down-regulated protein bands of Ddx5, FBP, and HuR and corresponding RT-PCR of HCV RNA quantified by Quantity One software (Bio-Rad) are shown in B and C, respectively. WB, Western blot.

      DISCUSSION

      Modern tools for the comprehensive compositional analysis of ribonucleoprotein complexes have been in dire scarcity. Traditional techniques for characterizing RNA-protein interactions, such as UV cross-linking or RNA electrophoretic mobility shift assays, yield limited information with regard to protein identity and function. SDS-PAGE gels of cross-linked species can inform on the size of proteins and can even confirm protein identity if antibodies to suspected proteins are available for subsequent Western blotting. RNA electrophoretic mobility shift assays can be useful for detecting RNA binding activities in cell extracts, quantifying binding affinity for particular proteins, and also detecting protein-protein interactions in the appearance of supershifted species. However, the only modern technique capable of positively identifying numerous proteins simultaneously within a complex mixture is mass spectrometry. The most powerful system for performing this feat is LC/MS/MS, which couples the high resolution of the HPLC instrument with tandem mass spectrometry, providing both mass information and sequence information for all of the tryptic peptides. We harnessed the power of this technology to address major questions about virus-host interactions in the life cycle of hepatitis C virus. A recent report describing the identification of protein species present in the human spliceosome (
      • Rhode B.M.
      • Hartmuth K.
      • Urlaub H.
      • Luhrmann R.
      Analysis of site-specific protein-RNA cross-links in isolated RNP complexes, combining affinity selection and mass spectrometry.
      ) undertook the large scale cross-linking and subsequent purification of various cross-linked species for mass spectrometric analysis, which represents an excellent development toward combining affinity capture and mass spectrometry. Also HCV ribonucleoprotein complexes have been purified using an affinity approach in which the captured complexes were subjected to Western analysis for viral proteins only (
      • Waris G.
      • Sarker S.
      • Siddiqui A.
      Two-step affinity purification of the hepatitis C virus ribonucleoprotein complex.
      ). We used runoff RNA transcripts to capture and examine the entire protein binding profile of the 3′-NTR of the HCV genome to gain insight into the host components of the HCV replication machinery.
      A recent report describing the comprehensive proteomic analysis of a large ribonucleoprotein complex reveals the presence of many cellular proteins (
      • Zhou Z.
      • Licklider L.J.
      • Gygi S.P.
      • Reed R.
      Comprehensive proteomic analysis of the human spliceosome.
      ). Consistent with these observations, we found >70 human proteins associated with the 3′-nontranslated region of the hepatitis C virus RNA genome in our affinity capture assay. Given the size and predicted structure of the 3′-NTR, it may not seem feasible that all of these proteins would bind to the NTR RNA simultaneously. However, it is quite possible that some of the identified proteins compete for binding. As recently demonstrated by Lal et al. (
      • Lal A.
      • Mazan-Mamczarz K.
      • Kawai T.
      • Yang X.
      • Martindale J.L.
      • Gorospe M.
      Concurrent versus individual binding of HuR and AUF1 to common labile target mRNAs.
      ), both HuR and AUF1 bind to common labile target mRNAs, and this coordinated binding likely determines the stability of these RNAs. With a vast array of RNA binding and ARE-binding proteins in the cell, it seems logical that more than two proteins might compete for binding to target mRNAs at any given time. Depending upon the phase of cell growth, differentiation, or responses to stress, the expression of specific ARE-binding proteins would likely be modulated, influencing the downstream regulation of stability of target mRNAs. Alternatively as in the case of interleukin-2 mRNA stabilization by NF90, increased export of ARE-binding proteins from the nucleus to the cytoplasm (following T cell activation) could be another general mechanism utilized by cells to regulate mRNA turnover.
      One group of proteins we identified that may have significant implications in their possible role(s) as regulators of viral RNA stability comprises several AU-rich element-binding proteins. The AU-rich element-binding proteins we confirmed as HCV 3′-NTR binders include AUF1/hnRNP D, HuR, FBP, FBP2 (KH-type splicing regulatory protein), hnRNP C, YB-1, and NF90. Interestingly although some of these proteins have been shown to be involved in targeting mRNAs for degradation by binding to AREs within the 3′-UTRs of cellular mRNAs, such as AUF1 (
      • Sarkar B.
      • Xi Q.
      • He C.
      • Schneider R.J.
      Selective degradation of AU-rich mRNAs promoted by the p37 AUF1 protein isoform.
      ), hnRNP L (
      • Shih S.C.
      • Claffey K.P.
      Regulation of human vascular endothelial growth factor mRNA stability in hypoxia by heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein L.
      ), and KH-type splicing regulatory protein (
      • Gherzi R.
      • Lee K.Y.
      • Briata P.
      • Wegmuller D.
      • Moroni C.
      • Karin M.
      • Chen C.Y.
      A KH domain RNA binding protein, KSRP, promotes ARE-directed mRNA turnover by recruiting the degradation machinery.
      ). Others such as HuR (
      • Brennan C.M.
      • Steitz J.A.
      HuR and mRNA stability.
      ,
      • Peng S.S.
      • Chen C.Y.
      • Xu N.
      • Shyu A.B.
      RNA stabilization by the AU-rich element binding protein, HuR, an ELAV protein.
      ), hnRNP C (
      • Rajagopalan L.E.
      • Westmark C.J.
      • Jarzembowski J.A.
      • Malter J.S.
      hnRNP C increases amyloid precursor protein (APP) production by stabilizing APP mRNA.
      ), and NF90 (
      • Shim J.
      • Lim H.
      • Yates J.R.
      • Karin M.
      Nuclear export of NF90 is required for interleukin-2 mRNA stabilization.
      ), have been shown to increase the stability and longevity of certain mRNAs. Our observation that HuR expression is correlated with HCV replicon RNA abundance in MH 14 cells supports the contention that HuR serves to stabilize the viral RNA message as it has been observed to stabilize cellular RNAs. It is also possible that HuR facilitates or stimulates HCV replication at the level of initiation of RNA synthesis, thus increasing HCV RNA abundance. The binding of both positive and negative regulators of RNA stability to the 3′-NTR of HCV suggests a complex set of interactions governing the fate of HCV viral RNA. The possibility that the 3′-NTR of HCV may serve a function similar to that of the 3′-UTRs of cellular mRNA with regard to regulating RNA stability certainly presents an expanded view of virally encoded regulatory mechanisms utilizing host factors.
      Although the hnRNP family members are frequently related in primary sequence as well as structure (
      • Nagai K.
      • Oubridge C.
      • Ito N.
      • Avis J.
      • Evans P.
      The RNP domain: a sequence-specific RNA-binding domain involved in processing and transport of RNA.
      ), these proteins can perform rather diverse functions in the cell. The hnRNP K protein, strongly expressed in hepatoma cells across species (
      • Ito K.
      • Sato K.
      • Endo H.
      Cloning and characterization of a single-stranded DNA binding protein that specifically recognizes deoxycytidine stretch.
      ), has both RNA and DNA binding properties (
      • Takimoto M.
      • Tomonaga T.
      • Matunis M.
      • Avigan M.
      • Krutzsch H.
      • Dreyfuss G.
      • Levens D.
      Specific binding of heterogeneous ribonucleoprotein particle protein K to the human c-myc promoter in vitro.
      ,
      • Matunis M.J.
      • Michael W.M.
      • Dreyfuss G.
      Characterization and primary structure of the poly (C)-binding heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein complex K protein.
      ) and shuttles back and forth between the nucleus and cytoplasm, thus being implicated in mRNA processing and transport. Like FBP, a highly homologous ARE-binding protein, hnRNP K can also stimulate transcription from the c-myc promoter, (
      • Takimoto M.
      • Tomonaga T.
      • Matunis M.
      • Avigan M.
      • Krutzsch H.
      • Dreyfuss G.
      • Levens D.
      Specific binding of heterogeneous ribonucleoprotein particle protein K to the human c-myc promoter in vitro.
      ,
      • Tomonaga T.
      • Levens D.
      Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K is a DNA-binding transactivator.
      ,
      • Tomonaga T.
      • Levens D.
      Activating transcription from single stranded DNA.
      ) The K homology (KH) domain, now recognized as an RNA binding motif common to many proteins, was originally identified in hnRNP K (
      • Siomi H.
      • Matunis M.J.
      • Michael W.M.
      • Dreyfuss G.
      The pre-mRNA binding K protein contains a novel evolutionarily conserved motif.
      ), and structural information for these domains has recently become available (
      • Musco G.
      • Kharrat A.
      • Stier G.
      • Fraternali F.
      • Gibson T.J.
      • Nilges M.
      • Pastore A.
      The solution structure of the first KH domain of FMR1, the protein responsible for the fragile X syndrome.
      ,
      • Baber J.L.
      • Libutti D.
      • Levens D.
      • Tjandra N.
      High precision solution structure of the C-terminal KH domain of heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K, a c-myc transcription factor.
      ,
      • Lewis H.A.
      • Chen H.
      • Edo C.
      • Buckanovich R.J.
      • Yang Y.Y.
      • Musunuru K.
      • Zhong R.
      • Darnell R.B.
      • Burley S.K.
      Crystal structures of Nova-1 and Nova-2 K-homology RNA-binding domains.
      ). Interestingly hnRNP K has been shown to interact with the core protein of HCV (
      • Hsieh T.Y.
      • Matsumoto M.
      • Chou H.C.
      • Schneider R.
      • Hwang S.B.
      • Lee A.S.
      • Lai M.M.
      Hepatitis C virus core protein interacts with heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K.
      ), and given the multifunctional character of hnRNP K this interaction may contribute to HCV pathogenesis. hnRNP C contains a different RNA binding motif from that of K, namely the RNP motif, also called RNA recognition motif (RRM). However, hnRNP C and hnRNP K both bind U-rich regions with very high affinity (
      • Gorlach M.
      • Burd C.G.
      • Dreyfuss G.
      The determinants of RNA-binding specificity of the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein C proteins.
      ) and were both captured in our NTR binding assay.
      One of the most intensively studied hnRNPs, A1, contains RRM motifs and is implicated in several functions including splicing and export of mRNAs and telomere biogenesis (
      • LaBranche H.
      • Dupuis S.
      • Ben-David Y.
      • Bani M.R.
      • Wellinger R.J.
      • Chabot B.
      Telomere elongation by hnRNP A1 and a derivative that interacts with telomeric repeats and telomerase.
      ). Additionally hnRNP A1 has been shown to bind the 3′-untranslated region of mouse hepatitis virus and may help bridge the 3′- and 5′-ends of the mouse hepatitis virus genome (
      • Huang P.
      • Lai M.M.
      Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein a1 binds to the 3′-untranslated region and mediates potential 5′-3′-end cross talks of mouse hepatitis virus RNA.
      ). Besides these functions, A1 has been shown to play a role in alternative splicing of HIV-1 RNA transcripts by influencing splice site utilization (
      • Marchand V.
      • Mereau A.
      • Jacquenet S.
      • Thomas D.
      • Mougin A.
      • Gattoni R.
      • Stevenin J.
      • Branlant C.
      A Janus splicing regulatory element modulates HIV-1 tat and rev mRNA production by coordination of hnRNP A1 cooperative binding.
      ).
      PTB is another hnRNP family member that has been extensively characterized. PTB is a basic protein of ∼59 kDa but also exists as other isoforms as mentioned above. PTB is involved in pre-mRNA splicing (
      • Patton J.G.
      • Mayer S.A.
      • Tempst P.
      • Nadal-Ginard B.
      Characterization and molecular cloning of polypyrimidine tract-binding protein: a component of a complex necessary for pre-mRNA splicing.
      ), has been shown to modulate the stability of CD154 mRNA through binding to the 3′-UTR (
      • Hamilton B.J.
      • Genin A.
      • Cron R.Q.
      • Rigby W.F.
      Delineation of a novel pathway that regulates CD154 (CD40 ligand) expression.
      ), and also has been shown to stimulate binding of RNA polymerase II to HIV-1 TAR RNA (
      • Wu-Baer F.
      • Lane W.S.
      • Gaynor R.B.
      Identification of a group of cellular cofactors that stimulate the binding of RNA polymerase II and TRP-185 to human immunodeficiency virus 1 TAR RNA.
      ). We also identified PTB-associated splicing factor (PSF), a protein containing two RRMs responsible for RNA binding, that was initially identified as an interacting partner of PTB (
      • Patton J.G.
      • Porro E.B.
      • Galceran J.
      • Tempst P.
      • Nadal-Ginard B.
      Cloning and characterization of PSF, a novel pre-mRNA splicing factor.
      ). PSF has been shown recently to play an important role in posttranscriptional regulation of HIV-1 gene expression by binding to instability elements within the env gene (
      • Zolotukhin A.S.
      • Michalowski D.
      • Bear J.
      • Smulevitch S.V.
      • Traish A.M.
      • Peng R.
      • Patton J.
      • Shatsky I.N.
      • Felber B.K.
      PSF acts through the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 mRNA instability elements to regulate virus expression.
      ). Other hnRNPs identified in our RNA affinity assay include hnRNPs L, U, G, A0, X, and Q2.
      Although the vast majority of proteins we identified associated with the 3′-NTR are RNA-binding proteins, they serve many varied functions. Ku70 exists as part of a heterodimer with Ku80 (
      • Jin S.
      • Weaver D.T.
      Double-strand break repair by Ku70 requires heterodimerization with Ku80 and DNA binding functions.
      ) and is involved in the nonhomologous end joining pathway in V(D)J recombination. An interaction between Ku80 and poly(A) polymerase has been shown to be important for suppressing chromosomal aberrations in liver cancer formation (
      • Tong W.M.
      • Cortes U.
      • Hande M.P.
      • Ohgaki H.
      • Cavalli L.R.
      • Lansdorp P.M.
      • Haddad B.R.
      • Wang Z.Q.
      Synergistic role of Ku80 and poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase in suppressing chromosomal aberrations and liver cancer formation.
      ). Additionally the Ku70/Ku80 heterodimer has been shown to associate with human telomeres through interaction with human telomerase (
      • Chai W.
      • Ford L.P.
      • Lenertz L.
      • Wright W.E.
      • Shay J.W.
      Human Ku70/80 associates physically with telomerase through interaction with hTERT.
      ). This protein has also been shown to play an important role in the life cycle of HIV-1 (
      • Li L.
      • Olvera J.M.
      • Yoder K.E.
      • Mitchell R.S.
      • Butler S.L.
      • Lieber M.
      • Martin S.L.
      • Bushman F.D.
      Role of the non-homologous DNA end joining pathway in the early steps of retroviral infection.
      ). Rod 1 was discovered in yeast by virtue of its ability to confer resistance phenotypes (
      • Wu A.L.
      • Hallstrom T.C.
      • Moye-Rowley W.S.
      ROD1, a novel gene conferring multiple resistance phenotypes in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
      ), and the mammalian homolog was cloned soon thereafter (
      • Yamamoto H.
      • Tsukahara K.
      • Kanaoka Y.
      • Jinno S.
      • Okayama H.
      Isolation of a mammalian homologue of a fission yeast differentiation regulator.
      ) and found to be an RNA-binding protein that blocks differentiation and preferentially binds poly(U) stretches. Staufen protein, originally identified in Drosophila as being critical for the localization of specific mRNAs in early fly development, is reported to bind double-stranded RNA (
      • St Johnston D.
      • Beuchle D.
      • Nusslein-Volhard C.
      Staufen, a gene required to localize maternal RNAs in the Drosophila egg.
      ,
      • St Johnston D.
      • Brown N.H.
      • Gall J.G.
      • Jantsch M.
      A conserved double-stranded RNA-binding domain.
      ). The human homolog hStaufen interacts with NS1 protein of influenza virus (
      • Falcon A.M.
      • Fortes P.
      • Marion R.M.
      • Beloso A.
      • Ortin J.
      Interaction of influenza virus NS1 protein and the human homologue of Staufen in vivo and in vitro.
      ) and also binds the 3′-UTR of bicoid mRNA (
      • Ferrandon D.
      • Elphick L.
      • Nusslein-Volhard C.
      • St Johnston D.
      Staufen protein associates with the 3′UTR of bicoid mRNA to form particles that move in a microtubule-dependent manner.
      ). Recently hStaufen has been shown to be incorporated into HIV-1 virions and to play a role in the generation of infectious virus particles (
      • Chatel-Chaix L.
      • Clement J.F.
      • Martel C.
      • Beriault V.
      • Gatignol A.
      • DesGroseillers L.
      • Mouland A.J.
      Identification of Staufen in the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 Gag ribonucleoprotein complex and a role in generating infectious viral particles.
      ).
      NF90, initially identified as a transcription factor whose expression is up-regulated in activated T cells (
      • Kao P.N.
      • Chen L.
      • Brock G.
      • Ng J.
      • Kenny J.
      • Smith A.J.
      • Corthesy B.
      Cloning and expression of cyclosporin A- and FK506-sensitive nuclear factor of activated T-cells: NF45 and NF90.
      ), also interacts with the DNA-dependent protein kinase complex, which includes Ku70/Ku80 (
      • Ting N.S.
      • Kao P.N.
      • Chan D.W.
      • Lintott L.G.
      • Lees-Miller S.P.
      DNA-dependent protein kinase interacts with antigen receptor response element binding proteins NF90 and NF45.
      ), and can act as both a positive and negative regulator of gene expression (
      • Reichman T.W.
      • Muniz L.C.
      • Mathews M.B.
      The RNA binding protein nuclear factor 90 functions as both a positive and negative regulator of gene expression in mammalian cells.
      ). Although a predominantly nuclear protein, the cytoplasmic abundance of NF90 increases upon T cell activation.
      FBP, one of the ARE-binding proteins we identified that appears to be important for HCV replication (Fig. 6), activates transcription of the c-myc gene by binding to an element called the far upstream element (FUSE). FBP binds the 3′-UTR of the GAP-43 mRNA (
      • Irwin N.
      • Baekelandt V.
      • Goritchenko L.
      • Benowitz L.I.
      Identification of two proteins that bind to a pyrimidine-rich sequence in the 3′-untranslated region of GAP-43 mRNA.
      ) along with PTB, and these two may jointly regulate stability of the mRNA. FBP was shown to be identical to the DNA helicase V protein and contains a powerful ATP-dependent DNA helicase activity (
      • Vindigni A.
      • Ochem A.
      • Triolo G.
      • Falaschi A.
      Identification of human DNA helicase V with the far upstream element-binding protein.
      ). FBP has RGG motifs common to many RNA and DNA helicases, is highly conserved (
      • Davis-Smyth T.
      • Duncan R.C.
      • Zheng T.
      • Michelotti G.
      • Levens D.
      The far upstream element-binding proteins comprise an ancient family of single-strand DNA-binding transactivators.
      ), and has been compared with hnRNP K in its ability to target cognate sequences in negatively supercoiled DNA. FBP shares some homology with hnRNP K, which has also been shown to bind the “CT” element in the c-myc promoter (
      • Takimoto M.
      • Tomonaga T.
      • Matunis M.
      • Avigan M.
      • Krutzsch H.
      • Dreyfuss G.
      • Levens D.
      Specific binding of heterogeneous ribonucleoprotein particle protein K to the human c-myc promoter in vitro.
      ) and is present in undifferentiated but not differentiated cells (
      • Duncan R.
      • Bazar L.
      • Michelotti G.
      • Tomonaga T.
      • Krutzsch H.
      • Avigan M.
      • Levens D.
      A sequence-specific, single-strand binding protein activates the far upstream element of c-myc and defines a new DNA-binding motif.
      ). The structure of FBP (KH3 and KH4) bound to a 29-bp fragment from FUSE has been solved by NMR (
      • Braddock D.T.
      • Louis J.M.
      • Baber J.L.
      • Levens D.
      • Clore G.M.
      Structure and dynamics of KH domains from FBP bound to single-stranded DNA.
      ).
      Human Hsp70 protein, captured in our binding assay, has been shown recently to facilitate nuclear import of HIV-1 preintegration complexes (
      • Agostini I.
      • Popov S.
      • Li J.
      • Dubrovsky L.
      • Hao T.
      • Bukrinsky M.
      Heat-shock protein 70 can replace viral protein R of HIV-1 during nuclear import of the viral preintegration complex.
      ) and was also found to be incorporated into virion particles (
      • Gurer C.
      • Cimarelli A.
      • Luban J.
      Specific incorporation of heat shock protein 70 family members into primate lentiviral virions.
      ), suggesting a significant role for this host protein in the life cycle of another positive-stranded RNA virus. RNA helicase (RHA), abundant in our capture assay, contains two copies of a double-stranded RNA binding domain at its N terminus and an RGG box at its C terminus that binds single-stranded nucleic acids (
      • Zhang S.
      • Grosse F.
      Domain structure of human nuclear DNA helicase II (RNA helicase A).
      ). RHA unwinds both duplex RNA and DNA in an ATP-dependent fashion (
      • Zhang S.S.
      • Grosse F.
      Purification and characterization of two DNA helicases from calf thymus nuclei.
      ,
      • Zhang S.
      • Grosse F.
      Nuclear DNA helicase II unwinds both DNA and RNA.
      ). Hence it is not surprising that RHA displays high affinity for the 3′-NTR RNA, which contains both double-stranded and single-stranded regions. In addition to RHA, we identified other DEAD box family members including p68 (Ddx5) and Ddx3, shown to be overexpressed in hepatocellular carcinoma tissue (
      • Huang J.S.
      • Chao C.C.
      • Su T.L.
      • Yeh S.H.
      • Chen D.S.
      • Chen C.T.
      • Chen P.J.
      • Jou Y.S.
      Diverse cellular transformation capability of overexpressed genes in human hepatocellular carcinoma.
      ). The p68 helicase is also apparently important for HCV replication as demonstrated by the decrease in replicon RNA upon silencing of p68 expression (Fig. 6). Although HCV encodes its own RNA helicase activity in the NS3 protein, cellular RNA helicases such as FBP and Ddx5 may greatly enhance viral (+) RNA synthesis by facilitating the unwinding of the viral RNA template (−) strand. Both the binding of cellular RNA helicases to the 3′-NTR of HCV, confirmed in our MS analysis, and the decrease in HCV replicon RNA observed upon silencing of FBP and Ddx5 strongly support this hypothesis.
      Because we identified several proteins associated with the 3′-NTR that are known to modulate mRNA stability by means of binding to the 3′-untranslated regions of cellular genes as discussed above, it is quite feasible that HCV may utilize cis-acting signals similar to those found in the 3′-UTRs of cellular genes to regulate the stability of its own RNA. Although AU-rich elements have been identified most predominantly in the 3′-UTRs of short lived cytokine and proto-oncogene mRNAs and seem to be responsible for rapid decay of these mRNAs (
      • Chen C.Y.
      • Shyu A.B.
      AU-rich elements: characterization and importance in mRNA degradation.
      ,
      • Bakheet T.
      • Frevel M.
      • Williams B.R.
      • Greer W.
      • Khabar K.S.
      ARED: human AU-rich element-containing mRNA database reveals an unexpectedly diverse functional repertoire of encoded proteins.
      ), it is not logical that HCV would evolve to encode a mechanism for rapid degradation of its own genetic material. AREs are divided into three separate classes (
      • Chen C.Y.
      • Shyu A.B.
      AU-rich elements: characterization and importance in mRNA degradation.
      ), which surely interact with ARE-binding proteins differentially. The U-rich region in the 3′-NTR of HCV would clearly fall into the third class, which does not contain the repeated consensus AUUUA sequence present in the class I and class II AREs. As already noted, we identified some ARE-binding proteins that serve to stabilize mRNAs and others that promote mRNA decay. Because the poly(U)/UC tract within the 3′-NTR has been shown to be essential for HCV replication, the indisposability of this region may be related to the binding of mRNA-stabilizing proteins. In other words, HCV viral RNA may be rapidly degraded in the absence of this U-rich tract, leading to severely reduced viral replication.
      Recent studies have elegantly described the sequences within the 3′-NTR of HCV that are essential for replication of subgenomic replicons in cell culture (
      • Yi M.
      • Lemon S.M.
      3′ nontranslated RNA signals required for replication of hepatitis C virus RNA.
      ,
      • Friebe P.
      • Bartenschlager R.
      Genetic analysis of sequences in the 3′ nontranslated region of hepatitis C virus that are important for RNA replication.
      ). The current challenge is the identification of cellular and/or viral proteins interacting with these HCV-encoded signals, which then mediate downstream events in infected cells. These downstream events may include, in addition to viral RNA synthesis, the up-regulation or down-regulation of cellular genes, influences on posttranscriptional regulation of mRNA, and changes in cellular metabolism. Indeed our findings indicate that some of the proteins bound to the 3′-NTR are involved in regulating mRNA stability and pre-mRNA splicing as well as other activities in the cell. Although our RNA affinity capture system yielded much new information, the exact sequences and/or structures within the HCV 3′-NTR required for binding each of these individual proteins remain unknown.
      The KH domains of FBP also bind to single-stranded nucleic acid rich in U (RNA) or T (DNA) (
      • Braddock D.T.
      • Louis J.M.
      • Baber J.L.
      • Levens D.
      • Clore G.M.
      Structure and dynamics of KH domains from FBP bound to single-stranded DNA.
      ), suggesting that FBP may also bind the 3′-NTR in the U-rich region. Drosophila Staufen protein has been shown to bind to the 3′-UTR of bicoid mRNA, which is predicted to form three stem-loop structures (
      • Ferrandon D.
      • Elphick L.
      • Nusslein-Volhard C.
      • St Johnston D.
      Staufen protein associates with the 3′UTR of bicoid mRNA to form particles that move in a microtubule-dependent manner.
      ), much like the 98-nucleotide 3′-terminal region of the HCV NTR. Future studies examining the altered protein binding profiles of NTR RNA carrying mutations or deletions will more precisely define the structural and/or sequence elements responsible for binding specific proteins or classes of proteins we identified. It is intriguing, although perhaps not surprising, that a number of NTR-binding proteins including Hsp70, Ku70, hnRNP A1, hStaufen, and PSF have been shown to play important roles in the life cycle of HIV-1, another positive-stranded RNA virus. Although HCV and HIV have quite different replication strategies with HCV replicating in the cytoplasm of infected cells and HIV utilizing a DNA intermediate that is integrated into the host genome, our findings suggest that host factors may be recruited by these viruses for common purposes that are beneficial to the virus such as RNA stabilization, splicing regulation, and influencing host gene expression.
      We detected both positive and negative regulators of mRNA stability in our affinity capture assay. Additionally we found several RNA helicases associated with the 3′-NTR of the HCV genomic RNA. Our gene silencing studies demonstrated that Ddx5 and FBP may play critical roles in HCV replication. HuR, a well characterized ARE-binding protein shown to stabilize cellular mRNAs, also appears to stabilize HCV RNA. Studies currently underway in our laboratory are aimed at elucidating the mechanism by which the helicases FBP and Ddx5 facilitate replication of the HCV replicons. Additional studies will reveal how HCV replicons influence the expression of these and other potential HCV regulators (3′-NTR binders) in cell culture. Potential influences of viral nonstructural proteins at the level of transcription, translation, and proteolysis are being examined. Also additional gene silencing experiments may provide clues to the identities of other host proteins involved in HCV replication.
      Just as the polymerases of many pathogens including HIV, herpes simplex virus, and others, the NS5B polymerase of HCV was identified as a target for the development of anti-HCV drugs early on in the investigation of hepatitis C virus. Other potential targets for antiviral intervention include the protease and helicase activities found in the nonstructural proteins of HCV. Due to a prior lack of information regarding the signals within the nontranslated regions of the HCV genome that are essential for both translation and replication and a scarcity of modern tools for either characterizing or disrupting RNA-protein interactions, these regions did not appear to be attractive targets for intervention. In light of our findings, the wealth of RNA-protein interactions observed within the 3′-NTR may, in fact, represent excellent new targets for inhibition of viral replication. Possible strategies for disrupting essential RNA-protein interactions include not only the use of genome-targeted antisense inhibitors for blocking viral replication but also the regulation or inhibition of host proteins involved in viral replication.

      Acknowledgments

      We thank Dr. Sabya Ganguly for meticulous preparation of the hepatocyte cell extracts and Dr. Carol Lutz for the construct encoding the COL1A2 3′-UTR. We thank Dr. Makoto Hijikata for providing MH 14 cells. We also thank Dr. Hong Li and members of the Li laboratory for assistance with analysis of LC/MS/MS data and Dr. Jeffrey Wilusz and Dr. Michael B. Mathews for critical reading of the manuscript and helpful discussions.

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