Inhibition of Hepatitis C virus (HCV) Core protein- induced Cell Growth by Non-structural Protein 4A (NS4A) is Mediated by Mitochondrial Dysregulation
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a significant health problem facing the world. More than 170 million people are infected with HCV worldwide. HCV encodes a large polyprotein precursor that is processed into at least 10 distinct products including structural (core, E1 and E2) and non-structural (NS2, NS3, NS4A, NS4B, NS5A and NS5B). Besides its importance in virus replication, NS4A functions as a cofactor for NS3 and contributes to viral pathogenesis by influencing cellular functions. Here, we investigated the effect of NS4A protein on the growth rate induced by core protein in liver cells. Using our established tetracycline inducible system, we demonstrated the ability of NS4A protein to inhibit core protein-induced cell growth in Hepatoma cell line, HepG2. Induction of both core and NS4A proteins in HepG2- core/NS4A transfectants inhibited core-induced growth advantage in HepG2-core transfectants and blocked NS4A protein-induced cell growth inhibition in HepG2-NS4A transfectants. Using both immune fluorescence staining and Western blot analysis, we confirmed the localization of NS4A protein to the mitochondria in HepG2-NS4A transfectants expressing NS4A protein. Data obtained from flow cytometry analysis, using JC-1 demonstrated the loss of mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨ^ by the expression of NS4A protein in HepG2-NS4A transfectants, but not by the expression of core protein in HepG2-core transfectants. Whereas, the induction of the expression of both core and NS4A proteins in HepG2-core/NS4A transfectants blocked NS4A-induced loss of ΔΨm in HepG2 cells. Taken together, our data suggest an important role for mitochondria in the modulation HCV NS4A-induced inhibition of HCV core-mediated cell growth.