Hepatitis C virus (HCV) p7 is a membrane-associated oligomeric protein harboring ion channel activity. It is essential for effective assembly and release of infectious HCV particles and an attractive target for antiviral intervention. Yet, the self-assembly and molecular mechanism of p7 ion channelling are currently only partially understood. Using molecular dynamics simulations (aggregate time 1.2 μs), we show that p7 can form stable oligomers of four to seven subunits, with a bias towards six or seven subunits, and suggest that p7 self-assembles in a sequential manner, with tetrameric and pentameric complexes forming as intermediate states leading to the final hexameric or heptameric assembly. We describe a model of a hexameric p7 complex, which forms a transiently-open channel capable of conducting ions in simulation. We investigate the ability of the hexameric model to flexibly rearrange to adapt to the local lipid environment, and demonstrate how this model can be reconciled with low-resolution electron microscopy data. In the light of these results, a view of p7 oligomerization is proposed, wherein hexameric and heptameric complexes may coexist, forming minimalist, yet robust functional ion channels. In the absence of a high-resolution p7 structure, the models presented in this paper can prove valuable as a substitute structure in future studies of p7 function, or in the search for p7-inhibiting drugs.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Modeling and Simulation
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Computational Theory and Mathematics