Nonstructural protein 3-4A: the Swiss army knife of hepatitis C virus

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) nonstructural protein 3-4A (NS3-4A) is a complex composed of NS3 and its cofactor NS4A. It harbours serine protease as well as NTPase/RNA helicase activities and is essential for viral polyprotein processing, RNA replication and virion formation. Specific inhibitors of the NS3-4A protease significantly improve sustained virological response rates in patients with chronic hepatitis C when combined with pegylated interferon-α and ribavirin. The NS3-4A protease can also target selected cellular proteins, thereby blocking innate immune pathways and modulating growth factor signalling. Hence, NS3-4A is not only an essential component of the viral replication complex and prime target for antiviral intervention but also a key player in the persistence and pathogenesis of HCV. This review provides a concise update on the biochemical and structural aspects of NS3-4A, its role in the pathogenesis of chronic hepatitis C and the clinical development of NS3-4A protease inhibitors.


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