|Journal of Virology Structure and Assembly|
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is an enveloped RNA virus belonging to the Flaviviridae family. It infects mainly human hepatocytes and causes chronic liver diseases, including cirrhosis and cancer. HCV encodes two envelope proteins, E1 and E2, that form a heterodimer and mediate virus entry. While E2 has been extensively studied, less has been done so for E1, and its role in the HCV life cycle still needs to be elucidated. Here we developed a new cell culture model for HCV infection based on the trans-complementation of E1. Virus production of the HCV genome lacking the E1-encoding sequence can be efficiently rescued by the ectopic expression of E1 in trans. The resulting virus, designated HCVE1, can propagate in packaging cells expressing E1 but results in only single-cycle infection in naive cells. By using the HCVE1 system, we explored the role of a putative fusion peptide (FP) of E1 in HCV infection. Interestingly, we found that the FP not only contributes to HCV entry, as previously reported, but also may be involved in virus morphogenesis. Finally, we identified amino acid residues in FP that are critical for biological functions of E1. In summary, our work not only provides a new cell culture model for studying HCV but also provides some insights into understanding the role of E1 in the HCV life cycle.
IMPORTANCE Hepatitis C virus (HCV), an enveloped RNA virus, encodes two envelope proteins, E1 and E2, that form a heterodimeric complex to mediate virus entry. Compared to E2, the biological functions of E1 in the virus life cycle are not adequately investigated. Here we developed a new cell culture model for single-cycle HCV infection based on the trans-complementation of E1. The HCV genome lacking the E1-encoding sequence can be efficiently rescued for virus production by the ectopic expression of E1 in trans. This new model renders a unique system to dissect functional domains and motifs in E1. Using this system, we found that a putative fusion peptide in E1 is a multifunctional structural element contributing to both HCV entry and morphogenesis. Our work has provided a new cell culture model to study HCV and provides insights into understanding the biological roles of E1 in the HCV life cycle.