Journal of Virology
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) contains two membrane-associated envelope glycoproteins, E1 and E2, which assemble as a heterodimer in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). In this study, predictive algorithms and genetic analyses of deletion mutants and glycosylation site variants of the E1 glycoprotein were used to suggest that the glycoprotein can adopt two topologies in the ER membrane: the conventional type I membrane topology and a polytopic topology in which the protein spans the ER membrane twice with an intervening cytoplasmic loop (amino acid residues 288 to 360). We also demonstrate that the E1 glycoprotein is able to associate with the HCV core protein, but only upon oligomerization of the core protein in the presence of tRNA to form capsid-like structures. Yeast two-hybrid and immunoprecipitation analyses reveal that oligomerization of the core protein is promoted by amino acid residues 72 to 91 in the core. Furthermore, the association between the E1 glycoprotein and the assembled core can be recapitulated using a fusion protein containing the putative cytoplasmic loop of the E1 glycoprotein. This fusion protein is also able to compete with the intact E1 glycoprotein for binding to the core. Mutagenesis of the cytoplasmic loop of E1 was used to define a region of four amino acids (residues 312 to 315) that is important for interaction with the assembled HCV core. Taken together, our studies suggest that interaction between the self-oligomerized HCV core and the E1 glycoprotein is mediated through the cytoplasmic loop present in a polytopic form of the E1 glycoprotein.