Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a common cause of chronic hepatitis and is currently treated with alpha interferon (IFN-α)-based therapies. However, the underlying mechanism of IFN-α therapy remains to be elucidated. To identify the cellular proteins that mediate the antiviral effects of IFN-α, we created a HEK293-based cell culture system to inducibly express individual interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) and determined their antiviral effects against HCV. By screening 29 ISGs that are induced in Huh7 cells by IFN-α and/or up-regulated in HCV-infected livers, we discovered that viperin, ISG20, and double-stranded RNA-dependent protein kinase (PKR) noncytolytically inhibited the replication of HCV replicons. Mechanistically, inhibition of HCV replication by ISG20 and PKR depends on their 3′-5′ exonuclease and protein kinase activities, respectively. Moreover, our work, for the first time, provides strong evidence suggesting that viperin is a putative radical S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM) enzyme. In addition to demonstrating that the antiviral activity of viperin depends on its radical SAM domain, which contains conserved motifs to coordinate [4Fe-4S] cluster and cofactor SAM and is essential for its enzymatic activity, mutagenesis studies also revealed that viperin requires an aromatic amino acid residue at its C terminus for proper antiviral function. Furthermore, although the N-terminal 70 amino acid residues of viperin are not absolutely required, deletion of this region significantly compromises its antiviral activity against HCV. Our findings suggest that viperin represents a novel antiviral pathway that works together with other antiviral proteins, such as ISG20 and PKR, to mediate the IFN response against HCV infection
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