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1.  An RIG-I-Like RNA Helicase Mediates Antiviral RNAi Downstream of Viral siRNA Biogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(2):e1000286.
Dicer ribonucleases of plants and invertebrate animals including Caenorhabditis elegans recognize and process a viral RNA trigger into virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to guide specific viral immunity by Argonaute-dependent RNA interference (RNAi). C. elegans also encodes three Dicer-related helicase (drh) genes closely related to the RIG-I-like RNA helicase receptors which initiate broad-spectrum innate immunity against RNA viruses in mammals. Here we developed a transgenic C. elegans strain that expressed intense green fluorescence from a chromosomally integrated flock house virus replicon only after knockdown or knockout of a gene required for antiviral RNAi. Use of the reporter nematode strain in a feeding RNAi screen identified drh-1 as an essential component of the antiviral RNAi pathway. However, RNAi induced by either exogenous dsRNA or the viral replicon was enhanced in drh-2 mutant nematodes, whereas exogenous RNAi was essentially unaltered in drh-1 mutant nematodes, indicating that exogenous and antiviral RNAi pathways are genetically distinct. Genetic epistatic analysis shows that drh-1 acts downstream of virus sensing and viral siRNA biogenesis to mediate specific antiviral RNAi. Notably, we found that two members of the substantially expanded subfamily of Argonautes specific to C. elegans control parallel antiviral RNAi pathways. These findings demonstrate both conserved and unique strategies of C. elegans in antiviral defense.
Author Summary
The genome of Caenorhabditis elegans encodes three Dicer-related helicases (DRHs) highly homologous to the DExD/H box helicase domain found in two distinct families of virus sensors, Dicer ribonucleases and RIG-I-like helicases (RLRs). Dicer initiates the specific, RNAi-mediated viral immunity in plants, fungi and invertebrates by producing virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). By contrast, mammalian RLRs trigger interferon production and broad-spectrum viral immunity, although one of the three RLRs may act as both a negative and positive regulator of viral immunity. In this study we developed a transgenic C. elegans strain for high-throughput genetic screens and identified 35 genes including drh-1 that are required for RNAi-mediated viral immunity. Genetic epistatic analyses demonstrate that drh-1 mediates RNAi immunity downstream of the production of viral siRNAs. Notably, we found that drh-2 functions as a negative regulator of the viral immunity. Thus, both nematode DRHs and mammalian RLRs participate in antiviral immune responses. Unlike mammalian RLRs, however, nematode DRH-1 employs an RNAi effector mechanism and is unlikely to be involved in direct virus sensing.
PMCID: PMC2629121  PMID: 19197349
2.  RNA-based viral immunity initiated by the Dicer family of host immune receptors 
Immunological reviews  2009;227(1):176-188.
Suppression of viral infection by RNA in a nucleotide sequence homology-dependent manner was first reported in plants in early 1990s. Studies in the past 15 years have established a completely new RNA-based immune system against viruses that is mechanistically Riverside, CA, USA. related to RNA silencing or RNA interference (RNAi). This viral immunity begins with recognition of viral double-stranded or structured RNA by the Dicer nuclease family of host immune receptors. In fungi, plants and invertebrates, the viral RNA trigger is processed into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to direct specific silencing of the homologous viral genomic and/or messenger RNAs by an RNaseH-like Argonaute protein. Deep sequencing of virus-derived siRNAs indicates that the immunity against viruses with a positive-strand RNA genome is induced by Dicer recognition of dsRNA formed during the initiation of viral progeny (+)RNA synthesis. The RNA-based immune pathway in these organisms overlaps the canonical dsRNA-siRNA pathway of RNAi and may require amplification of viral siRNAs by host RNA-dependent RNA polymerase in plants and nematodes. Production of virus-derived small RNAs is undetectable in mammalian cells infected with RNA viruses. However, infection of mammals with several nucleus-replicating DNA viruses induces production of virus-derived microRNAs capable of silencing host and viral mRNAs as found for viral siRNAs. Remarkably, recent studies indicate that prokaryotes also produce virus-derived small RNAs known as CRISPR RNAs to guide antiviral defense in a manner that has yet to be defined. In this article, we review the recent progress on the identification and mechanism of the key components including viral sensors, viral triggers, effectors, and amplifiers, of the small RNA-directed viral immunity. We also highlight some of the many unresolved questions.
PMCID: PMC2676720  PMID: 19120484
viral; pattern recognition receptors; RNA silencing
3.  Dengue Virus Type 2 Infections of Aedes aegypti Are Modulated by the Mosquito's RNA Interference Pathway 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(2):e1000299.
A number of studies have shown that both innate and adaptive immune defense mechanisms greatly influence the course of human dengue virus (DENV) infections, but little is known about the innate immune response of the mosquito vector Aedes aegypti to arbovirus infection. We present evidence here that a major component of the mosquito innate immune response, RNA interference (RNAi), is an important modulator of mosquito infections. The RNAi response is triggered by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which occurs in the cytoplasm as a result of positive-sense RNA virus infection, leading to production of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). These siRNAs are instrumental in degradation of viral mRNA with sequence homology to the dsRNA trigger and thereby inhibition of virus replication. We show that although dengue virus type 2 (DENV2) infection of Ae. aegypti cultured cells and oral infection of adult mosquitoes generated dsRNA and production of DENV2-specific siRNAs, virus replication and release of infectious virus persisted, suggesting viral circumvention of RNAi. We also show that DENV2 does not completely evade RNAi, since impairing the pathway by silencing expression of dcr2, r2d2, or ago2, genes encoding important sensor and effector proteins in the RNAi pathway, increased virus replication in the vector and decreased the extrinsic incubation period required for virus transmission. Our findings indicate a major role for RNAi as a determinant of DENV transmission by Ae. aegypti.
Author Summary
Dengue viruses, globally the most prevalent arboviruses, are transmitted to humans by persistently infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Understanding the mechanisms mosquitoes use to modulate infections by these agents of serious human diseases should give us critical insights into virus–vector interactions leading to transmission. RNA interference (RNAi) is an innate defense mechanism used by invertebrates to inhibit RNA virus infections; however, little is known about the antiviral role of RNAi in mosquitoes. RNAi is triggered by double-stranded RNA, leading to degradation of RNA with sequence homology to the dsRNA trigger. We show that dengue virus type 2 (DENV2) infection of Ae. aegypti by the natural route generates dsRNA and DENV2-specific small interfering RNAs, hallmarks of the RNAi response; nevertheless, persistent infection of mosquitoes occurs, suggesting that DENV2 circumvents RNAi. We also show that DENV2 infection is modulated by RNAi, since impairment by silencing expression of genes encoding important sensor and effector proteins in the RNAi pathway increases virus replication in the vector and decreases the incubation period before virus transmission. Our findings indicate a significant role for RNAi in determining the mosquito vector's potential for transmitting human diseases.
PMCID: PMC2633610  PMID: 19214215
4.  Mosquito and Drosophila entomobirnaviruses suppress dsRNA- and siRNA-induced RNAi 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(13):8732-8744.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a crucial antiviral defense mechanism in insects, including the major mosquito species that transmit important human viruses. To counteract the potent antiviral RNAi pathway, insect viruses encode RNAi suppressors. However, whether mosquito-specific viruses suppress RNAi remains unclear. We therefore set out to study RNAi suppression by Culex Y virus (CYV), a mosquito-specific virus of the Birnaviridae family that was recently isolated from Culex pipiens mosquitoes. We found that the Culex RNAi machinery processes CYV double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) into viral small interfering RNAs (vsiRNAs). Furthermore, we show that RNAi is suppressed in CYV-infected cells and that the viral VP3 protein is responsible for RNAi antagonism. We demonstrate that VP3 can functionally replace B2, the well-characterized RNAi suppressor of Flock House virus. VP3 was found to bind long dsRNA as well as siRNAs and interfered with Dicer-2-mediated cleavage of long dsRNA into siRNAs. Slicing of target RNAs by pre-assembled RNA-induced silencing complexes was not affected by VP3. Finally, we show that the RNAi-suppressive activity of VP3 is conserved in Drosophila X virus, a birnavirus that persistently infects Drosophila cell cultures. Together, our data indicate that mosquito-specific viruses may encode RNAi antagonists to suppress antiviral RNAi.
PMCID: PMC4117760  PMID: 24939903
5.  Virus-induced Gene Silencing (VIGS) in Nicotiana benthamiana and Tomato 
RNA interference (RNAi) is a highly specific gene-silencing phenomenon triggered by dsRNA1. This silencing mechanism uses two major classes of RNA regulators: microRNAs, which are produced from non-protein coding genes and short interfering RNAs (siRNAs). Plants use RNAi to control transposons and to exert tight control over developmental processes such as flower organ formation and leaf development2,3,4. Plants also use RNAi to defend themselves against infection by viruses. Consequently, many viruses have evolved suppressors of gene silencing to allow their successful colonization of their host5.
Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) is a method that takes advantage of the plant RNAi-mediated antiviral defense mechanism. In plants infected with unmodified viruses the mechanism is specifically targeted against the viral genome. However, with virus vectors carrying sequences derived from host genes, the process can be additionally targeted against the corresponding host mRNAs. VIGS has been adapted for high-throughput functional genomics in plants by using the plant pathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens to deliver, via its Ti plasmid, a recombinant virus carrying the entire or part of the gene sequence targeted for silencing. Systemic virus spread and the endogenous plant RNAi machinery take care of the rest. dsRNAs corresponding to the target gene are produced and then cleaved by the ribonuclease Dicer into siRNAs of 21 to 24 nucleotides in length. These siRNAs ultimately guide the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) to degrade the target transcript2.
Different vectors have been employed in VIGS and one of the most frequently used is based on tobacco rattle virus (TRV). TRV is a bipartite virus and, as such, two different A. tumefaciens strains are used for VIGS. One carries pTRV1, which encodes the replication and movement viral functions while the other, pTRV2, harbors the coat protein and the sequence used for VIGS6,7. Inoculation of Nicotiana benthamiana and tomato seedlings with a mixture of both strains results in gene silencing. Silencing of the endogenous phytoene desaturase (PDS) gene, which causes photobleaching, is used as a control for VIGS efficiency. It should be noted, however, that silencing in tomato is usually less efficient than in N. benthamiana. RNA transcript abundance of the gene of interest should always be measured to ensure that the target gene has efficiently been down-regulated. Nevertheless, heterologous gene sequences from N. benthamiana can be used to silence their respective orthologs in tomato and vice versa8.
PMCID: PMC2795700  PMID: 19516240
6.  Functional Specialization of the Small Interfering RNA Pathway in Response to Virus Infection 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(8):e1003579.
In Drosophila, post-transcriptional gene silencing occurs when exogenous or endogenous double stranded RNA (dsRNA) is processed into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) by Dicer-2 (Dcr-2) in association with a dsRNA-binding protein (dsRBP) cofactor called Loquacious (Loqs-PD). siRNAs are then loaded onto Argonaute-2 (Ago2) by the action of Dcr-2 with another dsRBP cofactor called R2D2. Loaded Ago2 executes the destruction of target RNAs that have sequence complementarity to siRNAs. Although Dcr-2, R2D2, and Ago2 are essential for innate antiviral defense, the mechanism of virus-derived siRNA (vsiRNA) biogenesis and viral target inhibition remains unclear. Here, we characterize the response mechanism mediated by siRNAs against two different RNA viruses that infect Drosophila. In both cases, we show that vsiRNAs are generated by Dcr-2 processing of dsRNA formed during viral genome replication and, to a lesser extent, viral transcription. These vsiRNAs seem to preferentially target viral polyadenylated RNA to inhibit viral replication. Loqs-PD is completely dispensable for silencing of the viruses, in contrast to its role in silencing endogenous targets. Biogenesis of vsiRNAs is independent of both Loqs-PD and R2D2. R2D2, however, is required for sorting and loading of vsiRNAs onto Ago2 and inhibition of viral RNA expression. Direct injection of viral RNA into Drosophila results in replication that is also independent of Loqs-PD. This suggests that triggering of the antiviral pathway is not related to viral mode of entry but recognition of intrinsic features of virus RNA. Our results indicate the existence of a vsiRNA pathway that is separate from the endogenous siRNA pathway and is specifically triggered by virus RNA. We speculate that this unique framework might be necessary for a prompt and efficient antiviral response.
Author Summary
The RNA interference (RNAi) pathway utilizes small non-coding RNAs to silence gene expression. In insects, RNAi regulates endogenous genes and functions as an RNA-based immune system against viral infection. Here we have uncovered details of how RNAi is triggered by RNA viruses. Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) generated as a replication intermediate or from transcription of the RNA virus can be used as substrate for the biogenesis of virus-derived small interfering RNAs (vsiRNAs). Unlike other dsRNAs, virus RNA processing involves Dicer but not its canonical partner protein Loqs-PD. Thus, vsiRNA biogenesis is mechanistically different from biogenesis of endogenous siRNAs or siRNAs derived from other exogenous RNA sources. Our results suggest a specialization of the pathway dedicated to silencing of RNA viruses versus other types of RNAi silencing. The understanding of RNAi mechanisms during viral infection could have implications for the control of insect-borne viruses and the use of siRNAs to treat viral infections in humans.
PMCID: PMC3757037  PMID: 24009507
7.  Antiviral RNA Interference in Mammalian Cells 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2013;342(6155):10.1126/science.1241930.
In antiviral RNA interference (RNAi), the DICER enzyme processes virus-derived double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) that guide ARGONAUTE proteins to silence complementary viral RNA. As a counterdefense, viruses deploy viral suppressors of RNAi (VSRs). Well-established in plants and invertebrates, the existence of antiviral RNAi remains unknown in mammals. Here, we show that undifferentiated mouse cells infected with encephalomyocarditis virus (EMCV) or Nodamura virus (NoV) accumulate ~22-nucleotide RNAs with all the signature features of siRNAs. These derive from viral dsRNA replication intermediates, incorporate into AGO2, are eliminated in Dicer knockout cells, and decrease in abundance upon cell differentiation. Furthermore, genetically ablating a NoV-encoded VSR that antagonizes DICER during authentic infections reduces NoV accumulation, which is rescued in RNAi-deficient mouse cells. We conclude that antiviral RNAi operates in mammalian cells.
PMCID: PMC3853215  PMID: 24115438
8.  Role of RNA Interference (RNAi) in Dengue Virus Replication and Identification of NS4B as an RNAi Suppressor 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(16):8870-8883.
RNA interference (RNAi) is an important antiviral defense response in plants and invertebrates; however, evidences for its contribution to mammalian antiviral defense are few. In the present study, we demonstrate the anti-dengue virus role of RNAi in mammalian cells. Dengue virus infection of Huh 7 cells decreased the mRNA levels of host RNAi factors, namely, Dicer, Drosha, Ago1, and Ago2, and in corollary, silencing of these genes in virus-infected cells enhanced dengue virus replication. In addition, we observed downregulation of many known human microRNAs (miRNAs) in response to viral infection. Using reversion-of-silencing assays, we further showed that NS4B of all four dengue virus serotypes is a potent RNAi suppressor. We generated a series of deletion mutants and demonstrated that NS4B mediates RNAi suppression via its middle and C-terminal domains, namely, transmembrane domain 3 (TMD3) and TMD5. Importantly, the NS4B N-terminal region, including the signal sequence 2K, which has been implicated in interferon (IFN)-antagonistic properties, was not involved in mediating RNAi suppressor activity. Site-directed mutagenesis of conserved residues revealed that a Phe-to-Ala (F112A) mutation in the TMD3 region resulted in a significant reduction of the RNAi suppression activity. The green fluorescent protein (GFP)-small interfering RNA (siRNA) biogenesis of the GFP-silenced line was considerably reduced by wild-type NS4B, while the F112A mutant abrogated this reduction. These results were further confirmed by in vitro dicer assays. Together, our results suggest the involvement of miRNA/RNAi pathways in dengue virus establishment and that dengue virus NS4B protein plays an important role in the modulation of the host RNAi/miRNA pathway to favor dengue virus replication.
PMCID: PMC3754049  PMID: 23741001
9.  Comparison of Dengue Virus Type 2-Specific Small RNAs from RNA Interference-Competent and –Incompetent Mosquito Cells 
The exogenous RNA interference (RNAi) pathway is an important antiviral defense against arboviruses in mosquitoes, and virus-specific small interfering (si)RNAs are key components of this pathway. Understanding the biogenesis of siRNAs in mosquitoes could have important ramifications in using RNAi to control arbovirus transmission. Using deep sequencing technology, we characterized dengue virus type 2 (DENV2)-specific small RNAs produced during infection of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and A. aegypti Aag2 cell cultures and compared them to those produced in the C6/36 Aedes albopictus cell line. We show that the size and mixed polarity of virus-specific small RNAs from DENV-infected A. aegypti cells indicate that they are products of Dicer-2 (Dcr2) cleavage of long dsRNA, whereas C6/36 cells generate DENV2-specific small RNAs that are longer and predominantly positive polarity, suggesting that they originate from a different small RNA pathway. Examination of virus-specific small RNAs after infection of the two mosquito cell lines with the insect-only flavivirus cell fusing agent virus (CFAV) corroborated these findings. An in vitro assay also showed that Aag2 A. aegypti cells are capable of siRNA production, while C6/36 A. albopictus cells exhibit inefficient Dcr2 cleavage of long dsRNA. Defective expression or function of Dcr2, the key initiator of the RNAi pathway, might explain the comparatively robust growth of arthropod-borne viruses in the C6/36 cell line, which has been used frequently as a surrogate for studying molecular interactions between arboviruses and cells of their mosquito hosts.
Author Summary
Understanding how arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses) establish persistent infections in mosquitoes will help us to find ways to prevent viral disease transmission by these insects. RNA silencing pathways in mosquitoes and other insects, particularly RNA interference (RNAi), have been shown to be important in antiviral defense. In this study we describe small RNAs involved in RNA silencing that are derived from the genome of the arbovirus dengue virus type-2 (DENV2) in infected Aedes aegypti mosquito cell lines and mosquitoes. We also show that C6/36, a mosquito cell line from A. albopictus, appears to process DENV2 RNA for silencing differently from A. aegypti mosquitoes, revealing that other small RNA pathways in mosquito cells might have a role in antiviral immunity in this cell line and provide insight into using mosquito cell cultures to study the antiviral response to arboviruses in mosquitoes.
PMCID: PMC2964303  PMID: 21049014
10.  Viral RNA Silencing Suppressors (RSS): Novel Strategy of Viruses to Ablate the Host RNA Interference (RNAi) Defense System 
Virus research  2010;155(1):1-9.
Pathogenic viruses have developed a molecular defense arsenal for their survival by counteracting the host anti-viral system known as RNA interference (RNAi). Cellular RNAi, in addition to regulating gene expression through microRNAs, also serves as a barrier against invasive foreign nucleic acids. RNAi is conserved across the biological species, including plants, animals and invertebrates. Viruses in turn, have evolved mechanisms that can counteract this anti-viral defense of the host. Recent studies of mammalian viruses exhibiting RNA silencing suppressor (RSS) activity have further advanced our understanding of RNAi in terms of host-virus interactions. Viral proteins and non-coding viral RNAs can inhibit the RNAi (miRNA/siRNA) pathway through different mechanisms. Mammalian viruses having dsRNA-binding regions and GW/WG motifs appear to have a high chance of conferring RSS activity. Although, RSSs of plant and invertebrate viruses have been well characterized, mammalian viral RSSs still need in-depth investigations to present the concrete evidences supporting their RNAi ablation characteristics. The information presented in this review together with any perspective research should help to predict and identify the RSS activity-endowed new viral proteins that could be the potential targets for designing novel anti-viral therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3042272  PMID: 20951748
miRNA; ds-RNA binding protein; Dicer; Argonaute; RISC; GW/WG motif; HIV-1 Tat; Influenza A virus NS1
11.  C6/36 Aedes albopictus Cells Have a Dysfunctional Antiviral RNA Interference Response 
Mosquitoes rely on RNA interference (RNAi) as their primary defense against viral infections. To this end, the combination of RNAi and invertebrate cell culture systems has become an invaluable tool in studying virus-vector interactions. Nevertheless, a recent study failed to detect an active RNAi response to West Nile virus (WNV) infection in C6/36 (Aedes albopictus) cells, a mosquito cell line frequently used to study arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses). Therefore, we sought to determine if WNV actively evades the host's RNAi response or if C6/36 cells have a dysfunctional RNAi pathway. C6/36 and Drosophila melanogaster S2 cells were infected with WNV (Flaviviridae), Sindbis virus (SINV, Togaviridae) and La Crosse virus (LACV, Bunyaviridae) and total RNA recovered from cell lysates. Small RNA (sRNA) libraries were constructed and subjected to high-throughput sequencing. In S2 cells, virus-derived small interfering RNAs (viRNAs) from all three viruses were predominantly 21 nt in length, a hallmark of the RNAi pathway. However, in C6/36 cells, viRNAs were primarily 17 nt in length from WNV infected cells and 26–27 nt in length in SINV and LACV infected cells. Furthermore, the origin (positive or negative viral strand) and distribution (position along viral genome) of S2 cell generated viRNA populations was consistent with previously published studies, but the profile of sRNAs isolated from C6/36 cells was altered. In total, these results suggest that C6/36 cells lack a functional antiviral RNAi response. These findings are analogous to the type-I interferon deficiency described in Vero (African green monkey kidney) cells and suggest that C6/36 cells may fail to accurately model mosquito-arbovirus interactions at the molecular level.
Author Summary
Cell culture systems are invaluable tools for studying virus-host interactions. These systems are typically easy to maintain and manipulate; however, they can fail to accurately mimic the host environment encountered by viruses. Therefore, defining the limitations of each system is critical to properly interpreting the results. C6/36 Aedes albopictus cells are commonly used to study arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses), such as West Nile virus (WNV). Recent evidence suggests that the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway, a critical aspect of the cellular innate antiviral immune response in invertebrates, may not actively target WNV in C6/36 cells. However, it is unknown whether this observation is limited to WNV. Therefore, we examined small RNA populations from C6/36 and Drosophila melanogastor S2 cells infected with WNV, Sindbis virus and La Crosse virus by high-throughput sequencing. We demonstrate that the RNAi pathway actively targets each of the three viruses in S2 cells, but does not in C6/36 cells. These findings suggest that C6/36 cells may fail to accurately model mosquito-arbovirus interactions.
PMCID: PMC2964293  PMID: 21049065
12.  The Ebola Virus VP35 Protein Is a Suppressor of RNA Silencing 
PLoS Pathogens  2007;3(6):e86.
RNA silencing or interference (RNAi) is a gene regulation mechanism in eukaryotes that controls cell differentiation and developmental processes via expression of microRNAs. RNAi also serves as an innate antiviral defence response in plants, nematodes, and insects. This antiviral response is triggered by virus-specific double-stranded RNA molecules (dsRNAs) that are produced during infection. To overcome antiviral RNAi responses, many plant and insect viruses encode RNA silencing suppressors (RSSs) that enable them to replicate at higher titers. Recently, several human viruses were shown to encode RSSs, suggesting that RNAi also serves as an innate defence response in mammals. Here, we demonstrate that the Ebola virus VP35 protein is a suppressor of RNAi in mammalian cells and that its RSS activity is functionally equivalent to that of the HIV-1 Tat protein. We show that VP35 can replace HIV-1 Tat and thereby support the replication of a Tat-minus HIV-1 variant. The VP35 dsRNA-binding domain is required for this RSS activity. Vaccinia virus E3L protein and influenza A virus NS1 protein are also capable of replacing the HIV-1 Tat RSS function. These findings support the hypothesis that RNAi is part of the innate antiviral response in mammalian cells. Moreover, the results indicate that RSSs play a critical role in mammalian virus replication.
Author Summary
Cells have evolved mechanisms to protect themselves from virus infection. A well-known antiviral mechanism in mammals is the interferon (IFN) response of the innate immune system. In plants, insects, and worms, RNA silencing or RNA interference (RNAi) is a strong antiviral defence mechanism. It is still debated whether RNAi is also used as an antiviral mechanism in mammals. Many mammalian viruses encode essential factors that suppress the innate antiviral responses of the host. Such innate immunity suppressor proteins, or IFN antagonists, have recently been reported to also suppress RNAi in mammalian cells. We now demonstrate that the Ebola virus VP35 protein, a known IFN antagonist, suppresses RNAi in human cells. In addition, VP35 restores the production of an HIV-1 variant with a defective RNAi suppressor Tat protein. These results indicate that RNAi is part of the innate antiviral defence response in mammals and that viruses need to counteract this response in order to replicate. Whereas RNAi and INF act in concert to prevent the infection of mammalian cells, the invading viruses encode a protein that counteracts both defence mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC1894824  PMID: 17590081
13.  Characterization of Virus-Encoded RNA Interference Suppressors in Caenorhabditis elegans 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(10):5414-5423.
In fungi, plants, and invertebrates, antiviral RNA interference (RNAi) directed by virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) represents a major antiviral defense that the invading viruses have to overcome in order to establish infection. As a counterdefense mechanism, viruses of these hosts produce diverse classes of proteins capable of suppressing the biogenesis and/or function of viral siRNAs. This RNA-directed viral immunity (RDVI) in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is known to exhibit some unique features. Currently, little is known about viral suppression of RNAi in C. elegans. Here, we show that ectopic expression of the B2 protein encoded by Flock House virus (FHV) suppresses RNAi induced by either long double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) or an FHV-based replicon and facilitates the natural infection of C. elegans by Orsay virus but is not active against RNA silencing mediated by microRNAs. We report the development of an assay for the identification of viral suppressor of RNAi (VSR) in C. elegans based on the suppression of a viral replicon-triggered RDVI by ectopic expression of candidate proteins. No VSR activity was detected for either of the two Orsay viral proteins proposed previously as VSRs. We detected, among the known heterologous VSRs, VSR activity for B2 of Nodamura virus but not for 2b of tomato aspermy virus, p29 of fungus-infecting hypovirus, or p19 of tomato bushy stunt virus. We further show that, unlike that in plants and insects, FHV B2 suppresses worm RDVI mainly by interfering with the function of virus-derived primary siRNAs.
PMCID: PMC3648182  PMID: 23468484
14.  Six RNA Viruses and Forty-One Hosts: Viral Small RNAs and Modulation of Small RNA Repertoires in Vertebrate and Invertebrate Systems 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(2):e1000764.
We have used multiplexed high-throughput sequencing to characterize changes in small RNA populations that occur during viral infection in animal cells. Small RNA-based mechanisms such as RNA interference (RNAi) have been shown in plant and invertebrate systems to play a key role in host responses to viral infection. Although homologs of the key RNAi effector pathways are present in mammalian cells, and can launch an RNAi-mediated degradation of experimentally targeted mRNAs, any role for such responses in mammalian host-virus interactions remains to be characterized. Six different viruses were examined in 41 experimentally susceptible and resistant host systems. We identified virus-derived small RNAs (vsRNAs) from all six viruses, with total abundance varying from “vanishingly rare” (less than 0.1% of cellular small RNA) to highly abundant (comparable to abundant micro-RNAs “miRNAs”). In addition to the appearance of vsRNAs during infection, we saw a number of specific changes in host miRNA profiles. For several infection models investigated in more detail, the RNAi and Interferon pathways modulated the abundance of vsRNAs. We also found evidence for populations of vsRNAs that exist as duplexed siRNAs with zero to three nucleotide 3′ overhangs. Using populations of cells carrying a Hepatitis C replicon, we observed strand-selective loading of siRNAs onto Argonaute complexes. These experiments define vsRNAs as one possible component of the interplay between animal viruses and their hosts.
Author Summary
Short RNAs derived from invading viruses with RNA genomes are important components of antiviral immunity in plants, worms and flies. The regulated generation of these short RNAs, and their engagement by the immune apparatus, is essential for inhibiting viral growth in these organisms. Mammals have the necessary protein components to generate these viral-derived short RNAs (“vsRNAs”), raising the question of whether vsRNAs in mammals are a general feature of infections with RNA viruses. Our work with Hepatitis C, Polio, Dengue, Vesicular Stomatitis, and West Nile viruses in a broad host repertoire demonstrates the generality of RNA virus-derived vsRNA production, and the ability of the cellular short RNA apparatus to engage these vsRNAs in mammalian cells. Detailed analyses of vsRNA and host-derived short RNA populations demonstrate both common and virus-specific features of the interplay between viral infection and short RNA populations. The vsRNA populations described in this work represent a novel dimension in both viral pathogenesis and host response.
PMCID: PMC2820531  PMID: 20169186
15.  La Crosse Virus Nonstructural Protein NSs Counteracts the Effects of Short Interfering RNA 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(1):234-244.
Through a process known as RNA interference (RNAi), double-stranded short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) silence gene expression in a sequence-specific manner. Recently, several viral proteins, including the nonstructural protein NSs of tomato spotted wilt virus (a plant-infecting bunyavirus), the interferon antagonist protein NS1 of influenza virus, and the E3L protein of vaccinia virus, have been shown to function as suppressors of RNAi, presumably as a counterdefense against cellular mechanisms that decrease viral production. La Crosse virus (LACV), a member of the California serogroup of orthobunyaviruses, has a trisegmented negative-stranded genome comprised of large (L), medium (M), and small (S) segments. To develop a strategy for segment-specific inhibition of transcription, we designed 13 synthetic siRNAs targeting specific RNA segments of the LACV genome that decreased LACV replication and antigen expression in mammalian (293T) and insect (C6/36) cells. Furthermore, NSs, a LACV nonstructural protein, markedly inhibited RNAi directed both against an LACV M segment construct and against a host gene (glyeraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase), suggesting a possible role for this viral protein in the suppression of RNA silencing. Segment-specific siRNAs will be useful as a tool to analyze LACV transcription and replication and to obtain recombinant viruses. Additionally, NSs will help us to identify molecular pathways involved in RNAi and further define its role in the innate immune system.
PMCID: PMC538693  PMID: 15596819
16.  Noncoding Flavivirus RNA Displays RNA Interference Suppressor Activity in Insect and Mammalian Cells 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(24):13486-13500.
West Nile virus (WNV) and dengue virus (DENV) are highly pathogenic, mosquito-borne flaviviruses (family Flaviviridae) that cause severe disease and death in humans. WNV and DENV actively replicate in mosquitoes and human hosts and thus encounter different host immune responses. RNA interference (RNAi) is the predominant antiviral response against invading RNA viruses in insects and plants. As a countermeasure, plant and insect RNA viruses encode RNA silencing suppressor (RSS) proteins to block the generation/activity of small interfering RNA (siRNA). Enhanced flavivirus replication in mosquitoes depleted for RNAi factors suggests an important biological role for RNAi in restricting virus replication, but it has remained unclear whether or not flaviviruses counteract RNAi via expression of an RSS. First, we established that flaviviral RNA replication suppressed siRNA-induced gene silencing in WNV and DENV replicon-expressing cells. Next, we showed that none of the WNV encoded proteins displayed RSS activity in mammalian and insect cells and in plants by using robust RNAi suppressor assays. In contrast, we found that the 3′-untranslated region-derived RNA molecule known as subgenomic flavivirus RNA (sfRNA) efficiently suppressed siRNA- and miRNA-induced RNAi pathways in both mammalian and insect cells. We also showed that WNV sfRNA inhibits in vitro cleavage of double-stranded RNA by Dicer. The results of the present study suggest a novel role for sfRNA, i.e., as a nucleic acid-based regulator of RNAi pathways, a strategy that may be conserved among flaviviruses.
PMCID: PMC3503047  PMID: 23035235
17.  A dsRNA-binding protein of a complex invertebrate DNA virus suppresses the Drosophila RNAi response 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(19):12237-12248.
Invertebrate RNA viruses are targets of the host RNA interference (RNAi) pathway, which limits virus infection by degrading viral RNA substrates. Several insect RNA viruses encode suppressor proteins to counteract this antiviral response. We recently demonstrated that the dsDNA virus Invertebrate iridescent virus 6 (IIV-6) induces an RNAi response in Drosophila. Here, we show that RNAi is suppressed in IIV-6-infected cells and we mapped RNAi suppressor activity to the viral protein 340R. Using biochemical assays, we reveal that 340R binds long dsRNA and prevents Dicer-2-mediated processing of long dsRNA into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). We demonstrate that 340R additionally binds siRNAs and inhibits siRNA loading into the RNA-induced silencing complex. Finally, we show that 340R is able to rescue a Flock House virus replicon that lacks its viral suppressor of RNAi. Together, our findings indicate that, in analogy to RNA viruses, DNA viruses antagonize the antiviral RNAi response.
PMCID: PMC4231766  PMID: 25274730
18.  Viral Small Interfering RNAs Target Host Genes to Mediate Disease Symptoms in Plants 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(5):e1002022.
The Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) Y-satellite RNA (Y-Sat) has a small non-protein-coding RNA genome that induces yellowing symptoms in infected Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco). How this RNA pathogen induces such symptoms has been a longstanding question. We show that the yellowing symptoms are a result of small interfering RNA (siRNA)-directed RNA silencing of the chlorophyll biosynthetic gene, CHLI. The CHLI mRNA contains a 22-nucleotide (nt) complementary sequence to the Y-Sat genome, and in Y-Sat-infected plants, CHLI expression is dramatically down-regulated. Small RNA sequencing and 5′ RACE analyses confirmed that this 22-nt sequence was targeted for mRNA cleavage by Y-Sat-derived siRNAs. Transformation of tobacco with a RNA interference (RNAi) vector targeting CHLI induced Y-Sat-like symptoms. In addition, the symptoms of Y-Sat infection can be completely prevented by transforming tobacco with a silencing-resistant variant of the CHLI gene. These results suggest that siRNA-directed silencing of CHLI is solely responsible for the Y-Sat-induced symptoms. Furthermore, we demonstrate that two Nicotiana species, which do not develop yellowing symptoms upon Y-Sat infection, contain a single nucleotide polymorphism within the siRNA-targeted CHLI sequence. This suggests that the previously observed species specificity of Y-Sat-induced symptoms is due to natural sequence variation in the CHLI gene, preventing CHLI silencing in species with a mismatch to the Y-Sat siRNA. Taken together, these findings provide the first demonstration of small RNA-mediated viral disease symptom production and offer an explanation of the species specificity of the viral disease.
Author Summary
Viral infections result in a variety of disease symptoms that vary in character and severity depending on the type of viral infection and individual host factors. Despite extensive research, the molecular basis of viral disease development has remained poorly understood. Both plant and animal viruses express 20–25 nucleotide siRNAs or microRNAs (miRNAs) in their host. These virus-specific small RNAs (sRNAs) direct RNA silencing of homologous viral genes to restrict virus replication forming part of the host's antiviral defense mechanism. Using a plant viral satellite RNA as a model system, we demonstrate here a new function for virus-derived sRNAs: induction of disease symptoms by silencing of a physiologically important host gene. Furthermore, we demonstrate that such viral-derived sRNA-induced disease symptoms can be prevented by the expression of a either naturally evolved, or artificially introduced, silencing-resistant sequence variant of the viral siRNA-targeted gene. These findings not only provide the first demonstration of a sRNA-mediated viral disease mechanism, but also offer an alternate strategy to prevent the onset of such viral diseases.
PMCID: PMC3088724  PMID: 21573142
19.  HIV-1 TAR element is processed by Dicer to yield a viral micro-RNA involved in chromatin remodeling of the viral LTR 
RNA interference (RNAi) is a regulatory mechanism conserved in higher eukaryotes. The RNAi pathway generates small interfering RNA (siRNA) or micro RNA (miRNA) from either long double stranded stretches of RNA or RNA hairpins, respectively. The siRNA or miRNA then guides an effector complex to a homologous sequence of mRNA and regulates suppression of gene expression through one of several mechanisms. The suppression of gene expression through these mechanisms serves to regulate endogenous gene expression and protect the cell from foreign nucleic acids. There is growing evidence that many viruses have developed in the context of RNAi and express either a suppressor of RNAi or their own viral miRNA.
In this study we investigated the possibility that the HIV-1 TAR element, a hairpin structure of ~50 nucleotides found at the 5' end of the HIV viral mRNA, is recognized by the RNAi machinery and processed to yield a viral miRNA. We show that the protein Dicer, the enzyme responsible for cleaving miRNA and siRNA from longer RNA sequences, is expressed in CD4+ T-cells. Interestingly, the level of expression of Dicer in monocytes is sub-optimal, suggesting a possible role for RNAi in maintaining latency in T-cells. Using a biotin labeled TAR element we demonstrate that Dicer binds to this structure. We show that recombinant Dicer is capable of cleaving the TAR element in vitro and that TAR derived miRNA is present in HIV-1 infected cell lines and primary T-cell blasts. Finally, we show that a TAR derived miRNA is capable of regulating viral gene expression and may be involved in repressing gene expression through transcriptional silencing.
HIV-1 TAR element is processed by the Dicer enzyme to create a viral miRNA. This viral miRNA is detectable in infected cells and appears to contribute to viral latency.
PMCID: PMC1955452  PMID: 17663774
20.  RNA-based mechanisms regulating host-virus interactions 
Immunological reviews  2013;253(1):97-111.
RNA interference (RNAi) is an ancient process by which noncoding RNAs regulate gene expression in a sequence-specific manner. The core components of RNAi are small regulatory RNAs, ~21 to 30 nucleotides in length, including small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and microRNAs (miRNAs). The past two decades have seen considerable progress in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the biogenesis of siRNAs and miRNAs. Recent advances have also revealed the crucial regulatory roles played by small RNAs in such diverse processes as development, homeostasis, innate immunity, and oncogenesis. Accumulating evidence indicates that RNAi initially evolved as a host defense mechanism against viruses and transposons. The ability of the host small RNA biogenesis machinery to recognize viral double-stranded RNA replication intermediates and transposon transcripts is critical to this process, as is small RNA-guided targeting of RNAs via complementary base pairing. Collectively, these properties confer unparalleled specificity and precision to RNAi-mediated gene silencing as an effective antiviral mechanism.
PMCID: PMC3695692  PMID: 23550641
RNAi; siRNAs; miRNAs; antiviral immunity
21.  Endogenous siRNAs Derived from Transposons and mRNAs in Drosophila Somatic Cells 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2008;320(5879):1077-1081.
Small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) direct RNA interference (RNAi) in eukaryotes. In flies, somatic cells produce siRNAs from exogenous double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) as a defense against viral infection. We identified endogenous siRNAs (endo-siRNAs), 21 nucleotides in length, that correspond to transposons and heterochromatic sequences in the somatic cells of Drosophila melanogaster. We also detected endo-siRNAs complementary to messenger RNAs (mRNAs); these siRNAs disproportionately mapped to the complementary regions of overlapping mRNAs predicted to form double-stranded RNA in vivo. Normal accumulation of somatic endo-siRNAs requires the siRNA-generating ribonuclease Dicer-2 and the RNAi effector protein Argonaute2 (Ago2). We propose that endo-siRNAs generated by the fly RNAi pathway silence selfish genetic elements in the soma, much as Piwi-interacting RNAs do in the germ line.
PMCID: PMC2953241  PMID: 18403677
22.  Dicer-2 Processes Diverse Viral RNA Species 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e55458.
RNA silencing pathways play critical roles in gene regulation, virus infection, and transposon control. RNA interference (RNAi) is mediated by small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), which are liberated from double-stranded (ds)RNA precursors by Dicer and guide the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) to targets. Although principles governing small RNA sorting into RISC have been uncovered, the spectrum of RNA species that can be targeted by Dicer proteins, particularly the viral RNAs present during an infection, are poorly understood. Dicer-2 potently restricts viral infection in insects by generating virus-derived siRNAs from viral RNA. To better characterize the substrates of Dicer-2, we examined the virus-derived siRNAs produced during the Drosophila antiviral RNAi response to four different viruses using high-throughput sequencing. We found that each virus was uniquely targeted by the RNAi pathway; dicing substrates included dsRNA replication intermediates and intramolecular RNA stem loops. For instance, a putative intergenic RNA hairpin encoded by Rift Valley Fever virus generates abundant small RNAs in both Drosophila and mosquito cells, while repetitive sequences within the genomic termini of Vaccinia virus, which give rise to abundant small RNAs in Drosophila, were found to be transcribed in both insect and mammalian cells. Moreover, we provide evidence that the RNA species targeted by Dicer-2 can be modulated by the presence of a viral suppressor of RNAi. This study uncovered several novel, heavily targeted features within viral genomes, offering insight into viral replication, viral immune evasion strategies, and the mechanism of antiviral RNAi.
PMCID: PMC3570552  PMID: 23424633
23.  A Double-Stranded-RNA Response Program Important for RNA Interference Efficiency▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;27(11):3995-4005.
When recognized by the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway, double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) produced in eukaryotic cells results in posttranscriptional gene silencing. In addition, dsRNA can trigger the interferon response as part of the immune response in vertebrates. In this study, we show that dsRNA, but not short interfering RNA (siRNA), induces the expression of qde-2 (an Argonaute gene) and dcl-2 (a Dicer gene), two central components of the RNAi pathway in the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa. The induction of QDE-2 by dsRNA is required for normal gene silencing, indicating that this is a regulatory mechanism that allows the optimal function of the RNAi pathway. In addition, we demonstrate that Dicer proteins (DCLs) regulate QDE-2 posttranscriptionally, suggesting a role for DCLs or siRNA in QDE-2 accumulation. Finally, a genome-wide search revealed that additional RNAi components and homologs of antiviral and interferon-stimulated genes are also dsRNA-activated genes in Neurospora. Together, our results suggest that the activation of the RNAi components is part of a broad ancient host defense response against viral and transposon infections.
PMCID: PMC1900031  PMID: 17371837
24.  How many antiviral small interfering RNAs may be encoded by the mammalian genomes? 
Biology Direct  2010;5:62.
The discovery of RNA interference phenomenon (RNAi) and understanding of its mechanisms has revolutionized our views on many molecular processes in the living cell. Among the other, RNAi is involved in silencing of transposable elements and in inhibition of virus infection in various eukaryotic organisms. Recent experimental studies demonstrate few cases of viral replication suppression via complementary interactions between the mammalian small RNAs and viral transcripts.
Presentation of the hypothesis
It was found that >50% of the human genome is transcribed in different cell types and that these transcripts are mainly not associated with known protein coding genes, but represent non-coding RNAs of unknown functions. We propose a hypothesis that mammalian DNAs encode thousands RNA motifs that may serve for antiviral protection. We also presume that the evolutional success of some groups of genomic repeats and, in particular, of transposable elements (TEs) may be due to their ability to provide antiviral RNA motifs to the host organism. Intense genomic repeat propagation into the genome would inevitably cause bidirectional transcription of these sequences, and the resulting double-stranded RNAs may be recognized and processed by the RNA interference enzymatic machinery. Provided that these processed target motifs may be complementary to viral transcripts, fixation of the repeats into the host genome may be of a considerable benefit to the host. It fits with our bioinformatical data revealing thousands of 21-28 bp long motifs identical between human DNA and human-pathogenic adenoviral and herpesviral genomes. Many of these motifs are transcribed in human cells, and the transcribed part grows proportionally to their lengths. Many such motifs are included in human TEs. For example, one 23 nt-long motif that is a part of human abundant Alu retrotransposon, shares sequence identity with eight human adenoviral genomes.
Testing the hypothesis
This hypothesis could be tested on various mammalian species and viruses infecting mammalian cells.
Implications of the hypothesis
This hypothesis proposes that mammalian organisms may use their own genomes as sources of thousands of putative interfering RNA motifs that can be recruited to repress intracellular pathogens like proliferating viruses.
This article was reviewed by Eugene V. Koonin, Valerian V. Dolja and Yuri V. Shpakovski.
PMCID: PMC2992506  PMID: 21059241
25.  Convergent Evolution of Argonaute-2 Slicer Antagonism in Two Distinct Insect RNA Viruses 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(8):e1002872.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a major antiviral pathway that shapes evolution of RNA viruses. We show here that Nora virus, a natural Drosophila pathogen, is both a target and suppressor of RNAi. We detected viral small RNAs with a signature of Dicer-2 dependent small interfering RNAs in Nora virus infected Drosophila. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the Nora virus VP1 protein contains RNAi suppressive activity in vitro and in vivo that enhances pathogenicity of recombinant Sindbis virus in an RNAi dependent manner. Nora virus VP1 and the viral suppressor of RNAi of Cricket paralysis virus (1A) antagonized Argonaute-2 (AGO2) Slicer activity of RNA induced silencing complexes pre-loaded with a methylated single-stranded guide strand. The convergent evolution of AGO2 suppression in two unrelated insect RNA viruses highlights the importance of AGO2 in antiviral defense.
Author Summary
Multi-cellular organisms require a potent immune response to ensure survival under the ongoing assault by microbial pathogens. Co-evolution of virus and host shapes the genome of both pathogen and host. Using Drosophila melanogaster as a model, we study virus-host interactions in infections by Nora virus, a non-lethal natural pathogen of fruit flies. Insects depend on the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway for antiviral defense. A hallmark of the antiviral RNAi response is the production of viral small RNAs during infection. We detected Nora virus small RNAs during infection of Drosophila, demonstrating that Nora virus is a target of the antiviral RNAi pathway. Furthermore, we show that Nora virus viral protein 1 (VP1) inhibits the catalytic activity of Argonaute-2, a key protein of the RNAi pathway. The 1A protein of Cricket paralysis virus suppresses RNAi via a similar mechanism. Importantly, whereas Nora virus persistently infects Drosophila, Cricket paralysis virus induces a lethal infection. Our findings thus indicate that two distantly related viruses independently evolved an RNAi suppressor protein that targets the Argonaute-2 protein. Altogether, our results emphasize the critical role of Argonaute-2 in insect antiviral defense, both in lethal and persistent infections.
PMCID: PMC3420963  PMID: 22916019

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