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Generation and Characterization of a Hepatitis C Virus NS3 Protease-Dependent Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus

  • Vicky C. H. Lai
  • Weidong Zhong
  • Angela Skelton
  • Paul Ingravallo
  • Venteislav Vassilev
  • Ruben O. Donis
  • Zhi Hong
  • Johnson Y. N. Lau
American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
Jul 01, 2000
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Medicine


Unique to pestiviruses, the N-terminal protein encoded by the bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) genome is a cysteine protease (Npro) responsible for a self-cleavage that releases the N terminus of the core protein (C). This unique protease is dispensable for viral replication, and its coding region can be replaced by a ubiquitin gene directly fused in frame to the core. To develop an antiviral assay that allows the assessment of anti-hepatitis C virus (HCV) NS3 protease inhibitors, a chimeric BVDV in which the coding region of Npro was replaced by that of an NS4A cofactor-tethered HCV NS3 protease domain was generated. This cofactor-tethered HCV protease domain was linked in frame to the core protein of BVDV through an HCV NS5A-NS5B junction site and mimicked the proteolytic function of Npro in the release of BVDV core for capsid assembly. A similar chimeric construct was built with an inactive HCV NS3 protease to serve as a control. Genomic RNA transcripts derived from both chimeric clones, PH/B (wild-type HCV NS3 protease) and PH/B(S139A) (mutant HCV NS3 protease) were then transfected into bovine cells (MDBK). Only the RNA transcripts from the PH/B clone yielded viable viruses, whereas the mutant clone, PH/B(S139A), failed to produce any signs of infection, suggesting that the unprocessed fusion protein rendered the BVDV core protein defective in capsid assembly. Like the wild-type BVDV (NADL), the chimeric virus was cytopathic and formed plaques on the cell monolayer. Sequence and biochemical analyses confirmed the identity of the chimeric virus and further revealed variant viruses due to growth adaptation. Growth analysis revealed comparable replication kinetics between the wild-type and the chimeric BVDVs. Finally, to assess the genetic stability of the chimeric virus, an Npro-null BVDV (BVDV−Npro in which the entire Npro coding region was deleted) was produced. Although cytopathic, BVDV−Npro was highly defective in viral replication and growth, a finding consistent with the observed stability of the chimeric virus after serial passages.

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