Functional analysis of Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus vFLIP expression reveals a new mode of IRES-mediated translation.
The internal ribosome entry site (IRES) in the hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA genome is essential for the initiation of viral protein synthesis. IRES domains adopt well-defined folds that are potential targets for antiviral translation inhibitors. We have determined the three-dimensional structure of the IRES subdomain IIa in complex with a benzimidazole translation inhibitor at 2.2 Å resolution. Comparison to the structure of the unbound RNA in conjunction with studies of inhibitor binding to the target in solution demonstrate that the RNA undergoes a dramatic ligand-induced conformational adaptation to form a deep pocket that resembles the substrate binding sites in riboswitches. The presence of a well-defined ligand-binding pocket within the highly conserved IRES subdomain IIa holds promise for the development of unique anti-HCV drugs with a high barrier to resistance.