Hepatitis C virus (HCV) nonstructural protein 5B (NS5B), an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), is the key enzyme for HCV RNA replication. We previously showed that HCV RdRp is phosphorylated by protein kinase C-related kinase 2 (PRK2). In the present study, we used biochemical and reverse-genetics approaches to demonstrate that HCV NS5B phosphorylation is crucial for viral RNA replication in cell culture. Two-dimensional phosphoamino acid analysis revealed that PRK2 phosphorylates NS5B exclusively at its serine residues in vitro and in vivo. Using in vitro kinase assays and mass spectrometry, we identified two phosphorylation sites, Ser29 and Ser42, in the δ1 finger loop region that interacts with the thumb subdomain of NS5B. Colonyforming assays using drug-selectable HCV subgenomic RNA replicons revealed that preventing phosphorylation by Ala substitution at either Ser29 or Ser42 impairs HCV RNA replication. Furthermore, reverse-genetics studies using HCV infectious clones encoding phosphorylation-defective NS5B confirmed the crucial role of these PRK2 phosphorylation sites in viral RNA replication. Molecular-modeling studies predicted that the phosphorylation of NS5B stabilizes the interactions between its δ1 loop and thumb subdomain, which are required for the formation of the closed conformation of NS5B known to be important for de novo RNA synthesis. Collectively, our results provide evidence that HCV NS5B phosphorylation has a positive regulatory role in HCV RNA replication.
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© 2014, American Society for Microbiology.