Viral structural proteins can have multiple activities. Antivirals that target structural proteins have potential to exhibit multiple antiviral mechanisms. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) core protein (Cp) is involved in most stages of the viral life cycle; it assembles into capsids, packages viral RNA, is a metabolic compartment for reverse transcription, interacts with nuclear trafficking machinery, and disassembles to release the viral genome into the nucleus. During nuclear localization, HBV capsids bind to host importins (e.g., Impb) via Cp’s C-terminal domain (CTD); the CTD is localized to the interior of the capsid and is transiently exposed on the exterior. We used HAP12 as a representative Cp allosteric modulator (CpAM), a class of antivirals that inappropriately stimulates and misdirects HBV assembly and deforms capsids. CpAM impact on other aspects of the HBV life cycle is poorly understood. We investigate how HAP12 influences the interactions between empty or RNA-filled capsids with Impb and trypsin in vitro. We show that HAP12 can modulate CTD accessibility and capsid stability, depending on the saturation of HAP12-binding sites. We demonstrate that Impb synergistically contributes to capsid disruption at high levels of HAP12 saturation, using electron microscopy to visualize the disruption and rearrangement of Cp dimers into aberrant complexes. However, RNA-filled capsids resist the destabilizing effects of HAP12 and Impb. In summary, we show host protein-induced catalysis of capsid disruption, an unexpected additional mechanism of action for CpAMs. Potentially, untimely capsid disassembly can hamper the HBV life cycle and also cause the virus to become vulnerable to host innate immune responses.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science