Replication of the RNAs of influenza virus occurs in the nucleus of infected cells. The nucleoprotein (NP) has been shown to be important for the import of the viral RNA into the nucleus and has been proposed to contain at least three different nuclear localization signals (NLSs). Here, an import assay in digitonin-permeabilized cells was used to further define the contribution of these NLSs. Mutation of the unconventional NLS impaired the nuclear import of the NP. A peptide bearing the unconventional NLS could inhibit the nuclear import of the NP in this import assay and prevent the NP-karyopherin alpha interaction in a binding assay confirming the crucial role of this signal. Interestingly, a peptide containing the SV40 T antigen NLS was unable to inhibit the nuclear import of NP or the NP-karyopherin alpha interaction, suggesting that the NP and the SV40 T antigen do not share a common binding site on karyopherin alpha. We also investigated the question of which NLS(s) is/are necessary for the viral ribonucleoprotein complex to enter the nucleus. We found that the peptide containing the unconventional NLS efficiently inhibited the nuclear import of the ribonucleoprotein complexes. This finding suggests that the unconventional NLS is the major signal necessary not only for the nuclear transport of free NP but also for the import of the ribonucleoprotein complexes. Finally, viral replication could be specifically inhibited by a membrane-permeable peptide containing the unconventional NLS, confirming the crucial role of this signal during the replicative cycle of the virus.
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