Pestiviruses express their genome as a single polypeptide that is subsequently cleaved into individual proteins by host- and virus-encoded proteases. The pestivirus N-terminal protease (Npro) is a cysteine autoprotease that cleaves between its own C-terminus and the N-terminus of the core protein. Due to its unique sequence and catalytic site, it forms its own cysteine protease family C53. After self-cleavage, Npro is no longer active as a protease. The released Npro suppresses the induction of the host's type-I interferon-α/β (IFN-α/β) response. Npro binds interferon regulatory factor-3 (IRF3), the key transcriptional activator of IFN-α/β genes, and promotes degradation of IRF3 by the proteasome, thus preventing induction of the IFN-α/β response to pestivirus infection. Here we report the crystal structures of pestivirus Npro. Npro is structurally distinct from other known cysteine proteases and has a novel “clam shell” fold consisting of a protease domain and a zinc-binding domain. The unique fold of Npro allows auto-catalysis at its C-terminus and subsequently conceals the cleavage site in the active site of the protease. Although many viruses interfere with type I IFN induction by targeting the IRF3 pathway, little information is available regarding structure or mechanism of action of viral proteins that interact with IRF3. The distribution of amino acids on the surface of Npro involved in targeting IRF3 for proteasomal degradation provides insight into the nature of Npro's interaction with IRF3. The structures thus establish the mechanism of auto-catalysis and subsequent
auto-inhibition of trans-activity of Npro, and its role in subversion of host immune response.
This atricle was published online in PLoS One and is free to access.