GB virus B (GBV-B) is a recently discovered virus responsible for hepatitis in tamarins (Saguinus species). GBV-B belongs to the Flaviviridae family and is closely related to the human pathogen hepatitis C virus (HCV). Nonstructural protein 3 (NS3) of HCV has been shown to encompass a serine protease domain required for viral maturation. GBV-B and HCV share only about 30% of the amino acid sequence within the NS3 protease domain. The catalytic triad is conserved, and the residue Phe-154, presumed to be a crucial amino acid for determining the S1 specificity pocket of the HCV NS3 protease, is also conserved. We have expressed a synthetic gene encoding the GBV-B NS3 protease domain in Escherichia coli and have characterized the purified recombinant protein for its activity on HCV substrates. We have shown that the NS3 region of the GBV-B genome actually encodes a serine protease that, despite the low sequence homology, shares substrate specificity with the HCV NS3 protease
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