In Papua New Guinea, 1500+ women die every year from childbirth-related causes – 80 times higher than in Australia. And these deaths are, mostly, preventable.
The p7 protein of hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a viroporin that is dispensable for viral genome replication but plays a critical role in virus morphogenesis. In this study, we generated a JFH1-based intergenotypic chimeric genome that encoded a heterologous genotype 1b (GT1b) p7. The parental intergenotypic chimeric genome was nonviable in human hepatoma cells, and infectious chimeric virions were produced only when cells transfected with the chimeric genomes were passaged several times. Sequence analysis of the entire polyprotein-coding region of the recovered chimeric virus revealed one predominant amino acid substitution in nonstructural protein 2 (NS2), T23N, and one in NS5B, K151R. Forward genetic analysis demonstrated that each of these mutations per se restored the infectivity of the parental chimeric genome, suggesting that interactions between p7, NS2, and NS5B were required for virion assembly/maturation. p7 and NS5B colocalized in cellular compartments, and the NS5B mutation did not affect the colocalization pattern. The NS5B K151R mutation neither increased viral RNA replication in human hepatoma cells nor altered the polymerase activity of NS5B in an in vitro assay. In conclusion, this study suggests that HCV NS5B is involved in virus morphogenesis.