BIOPHYSICAL JOURNAL, vol.103, no.6, pp.1343-1353, 2012 (SCI-Expanded)
The NS3 helicase of Hepatitis C virus is an ATP-fueled molecular motor that can translocate along single-stranded (ss) nucleic acid, and unwind double-stranded nucleic acids. It makes a promising antiviral target and an important prototype system for helicase research. Despite recent progress, the detailed mechanism of NS3 helicase remains unknown. In this study, we have combined coarse-grained (CG) and atomistic simulations to probe the translocation mechanism of NS3 helicase along ssDNA. At the residue level of detail, our CG simulations have captured functionally important interdomain motions of NS3 helicase and reproduced single-base translocation of NS3 helicase along ssDNA in the 3'-5' direction, which is in good agreement with experimental data and the inchworm model. By combining the CG simulations with residue-specific perturbations to protein-DNA interactions, we have identified a number of key residues important to the translocation machinery that agree with previous structural and mutational studies. Additionally, our atomistic simulations with targeted molecular dynamics have corroborated the findings of CG simulations and further revealed key protein-DNA hydrogen bonds that break/form during the transitions. This study offers, to our knowledge, the most detailed and realistic simulations of translocation mechanism of NS3 helicase. The simulation protocol established in this study will be useful for designing inhibitors that target the translocation machinery of NS3 helicase, and for simulations of a variety of nucleic-acid-based molecular motors.