Ogino T, Fukuda H, Imajoh-Ohmi S, Kohara M, Nomoto A
The immature core protein (p23, residues 1 to 191) of hepatitis C virus undergoes posttranslational modifications including intramembranous proteolysis within its C-terminal signal sequence by signal peptide peptidase to generate the mature form (p21). In this study, we analyzed the cleavage site and other amino acid modifications that occur on the core protein. To produce the posttranslationally modified core protein, we used a baculovirus-insect cell expression model system. As previously reported, p23 is processed to form p21 in insect as well as in mammalian cells. p21 was found to be associated with the cytoplasmic membrane, and its significant portion behaved as an integral membrane protein. The protein was purified from the membrane by a simple and unique procedure on the basis of its membrane-binding properties and solubility in detergents. Matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) analysis of purified p21 showed that the average molecular mass (m/z 19,307) of its single-charged ion differs by m/z 1,457 from that calculated for p23. To determine the posttranslational modifications, tryptic p21 peptides were analyzed by MALDI-TOF MS. We found three peptides that did not match the theoretically derived peptides of p23. Analysis of these peptides by MALDI-TOF tandem MS revealed that they correspond to N-terminal peptides (residues 2 to 9 and 2 to 10) starting with alpha-N-acetylserine and C-terminal peptide (residues 150 to 177) ending with phenylalanine. These results suggest that the mature core protein (molecular mass of 19,306 Da) includes residues 2 to 177 and that its N terminus is blocked with an acetyl group.