Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology


Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Program

First Thesis Advisor

Celia A. Schiffer, Ph.D.


Viral Nonstructural Proteins, Hepacivirus


Two decades after the discovery of the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), Hepatitis C infection still persists to be a global health problem. With the recent approval of the first set of directly acting antivirals (DAAs), the rate of sustained viral response for HCV-infected patients increased significantly. However, a complete cure has not been found yet. Drug development efforts primarily target NS3/4A protease, bifunctional serine protease-RNA helicase of HCV. HCV NS3/4A is critical in viral function; protease domain processes the viral polyprotein and helicase domain aids replication of HCV genome by unwinding double stranded RNA transcripts produced by NS5B, RNA-dependent RNA polymerase of HCV. Protease and helicase domains can be isolated, expressed and purified separately while retaining function. Isolated domains of HCV NS3/4A have been extensively used in biochemical and biophysical studies for scientific and therapeutic purposes to evaluate functional capability and mechanism. However, these domains are highly interdependent and modulate the activities of each other bidirectionally. Interdomain dependence was demonstrated in comparative studies where activities of isolated domains versus the full length protein were evaluated. Nevertheless, specific factors affecting interdependence have not been thoroughly studied.

Chapter II investigates the domain-domain interface formed between protease and helicase domains as a determinant in interdependence. Molecular dynamics simulations performed on single chain NS3/4A constructs demonstrated the importance of interface in the coupled dynamics of the two domains. The role of the interface in interdomain communication was experimentally probed by disrupting the domain-domain interface through Ala-scanning mutations in selected residues in the interface with significant buried surface areas. These interface mutants were assayed for both helicase and protease related activities. Instead of downregulating the activities of either domain, interface mutants caused enhancement of protease and helicase activities. In addition, the interface had minimal effect in RNA unwinding activity of the helicase domain, the mere presence of the protease domain was the main protagonist in elevated RNA unwinding activity. In conclusion, I suspect that the interface formed between the domains is transient in nature and plays a regulatory role more than a functional role. In addition, I found results supporting the suggestion that an alternate domain-domain arrangement other than what is observed in crystal structures is the active, biologically relevant conformation for both the helicase and the protease.

Chapter III investigates structural features of HCV NS3/4A protease inhibitors in relation to effects on inhibitor potency, susceptibility to drug resistance and modulation of potency by the helicase domain. Nearly all NS3/4A protease inhibitors share common features, with major differences only in bulky P2 extension groups and macrocyclization statuses. Enzymatic inhibition profiles of different drugs were analyzed for wildtype isolated protease domain and single chain NS3/4A helicase-protease construct, their multi drug resistant variants, and additional helicase mutants. Inhibitor potency was mainly influenced by macrocyclization, where macrocyclic drugs were significantly more potent compared to acyclic variants. Potency loss with respect to resistance mutations primarily depended on the P2 extension, while macrocyclization had minimal effect except for P2-P4 macrocyclic compounds which were up to an order of magnitude more susceptible to mutations A156T and, in lesser extent, D168A. Modulation by helicase domain was also dependent on P2 extension, although opposite trends were observed for danoprevir analogs versus others. In conclusion, this study provides a basis for future inhibitor development in both avoiding drug resistance and exploitation of the helicase domain for additional efficacy.

In this thesis, I have provided evidence further supporting and revealing the details of domain-domain dependency in HCV NS3/4A. Lessons learned here will aid future research for dissecting the interdependency to gain a better understanding of HCV NS3/4A function, which can possibly be extended to all Flaviviridae NS3 protease-helicase complexes. In addition, interdomain dependence can be exploited in future drug development efforts to create better drugs that will pave the way to an effective cure.



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