Zika virus NS3 is a canonical RNA helicase stimulated by NS5 RNA polymerase

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Zika virus is a positive single-strand RNA virus whose replication involved RNA unwinding and synthesis. ZIKV NS3 contains a helicase domain, but its enzymatic activity is not fully characterized. Here, we established a dsRNA unwinding assay based on the FRET effect to study the helicase activity of ZIKV NS3, which provided kinetic information in real time. We found that ZIKV NS3 specifically unwound dsRNA/dsDNA with a 3' overhang in the 3' to 5' direction. The RNA unwinding ability of NS3 significantly decreased when the duplex was longer than 18 base pairs. The helicase activity of NS3 depends on ATP hydrolysis and binding to RNA. Mutations in the ATP binding region or the RNA binding region of NS3 impair its helicase activity, thus blocking viral replication in the cell. Furthermore, we showed that ZIKV NS5 interacted with NS3 and stimulated its helicase activity. Disrupting NS3-NS5 interaction resulted in a defect in viral replication, revealing the tight coupling of RNA unwinding and synthesis. We suggest that NS3 helicase activity is stimulated by NS5; thus, viral replication can be carried out efficiently. Our work provides a molecular mechanism of ZIKV NS3 unwinding and novel insights into ZIKV replication.




Xu, S., Ci, Y., Wang, L., Yang, Y., Zhang, L., Xu, C., … Shi, L. (2019). Zika virus NS3 is a canonical RNA helicase stimulated by NS5 RNA polymerase. Nucleic Acids Research, 47(16), 8693–8707. https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkz650

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