Hepatitis delta virus (HDV) RNA replicates in the nuclei of virus-infected cells. The mechanism of nuclear import of HDV RNA is so far unknown. Using a fluorescein-labeled HDV RNA introduced into partially permeabilized HeLa cells, we found that HDV RNA accumulated only in the cytoplasm. However, in the presence of hepatitis delta antigen (HDAg), which is the only protein encoded by HDV RNA, the HDV RNA was translocated into the nucleus, suggesting that nuclear import of HDV RNA is mediated by HDAg. Deletion of the nuclear localization signal (NLS) or RNA-binding motifs of HDAg resulted in the failure of nuclear import of HDV RNA, indicating that both the NLS and an RNA-binding motif of HDAg are required for the RNA-transporting activity of HDAg. Surprisingly, any one of the three previously identified RNA-binding motifs was sufficient to confer the RNA-transporting activity. We have further shown that HDAg, via its NLS, interacts with karyopherin α2 in vitro, suggesting that nuclear import of the HDAg-HDV RNA complex is mediated by the karyopherin α2β heterodimer. The nuclear import of HDV RNA may be the first biological function of HDAg in the HDV life cycle
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