Viral Infection and Host Defense

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Science  27 Dec 1974:
Vol. 186, Issue 4170, pp. 1172-1178
DOI: 10.1126/science.186.4170.1172


Double-stranded RNA, made as an intermediary substance in the replication of most, if not all, viruses, may play a much more important role in the pathogenesis and the recovery from virus infections than has hitherto been suspected. Apparently, dsRNA is used by both the challenge virus and the host cell in an attempt to gain "molecular control." Double-stranded RNA exerts a set of effects, which may be well balanced, not only at the level of the individual cell but also at the complex assemblage of these cells termed the organism (Fig. 1). In the cell, interferon synthesis is triggered, although interferon mRNA translation may not occur if dsRNA shuts off protein synthesis too quickly. In the whole organism, the disease severity will depend on how certain toxic reactions evoked by infection (such as cell necrosis and fever) are counterbalanced by an increase in the host defense mechanisms (for example, immune responsiveness and interferon production). Many aspects of the response, relating to either progress of, or recovery from, the disease, can be explained on the basis of a dsRNA.

In addition to drawing attention to the biodynamic role of dsRNA, our hypothesis suggests specific experimental vectors designed to enhance our information on the molecular basis of the morbid process which occurs with viral infection. Finally, we suggest that, although the dsRNA molecule may be viewed as a rather simple unit structure, the opportunity for further diversity in the biological activity of a given dsRNA molecule always exists. Namely, each deviation from a perfectly double-helical arrangement introduces the possibility for emphasizing one biological reactivity at the expense of another. This latter structure-activity property may partially account for the extreme apparent diversity, commonly encountered, in the presentations of virologic illness.

Appendix note added in proof. Subsequent to submission of this text, we have found that the potent mitogen effect of dsRNA for lymphocytes (murine and human) is also exquisitively sensitive to the fidelity in base pairing of the input polymer pair (59). For example, infrequent "loops" (one nucleotide per 20 base pairs) in an otherwise perfectly helical rIn . rCn molecule [for example, rIn . r(C19,U)n] strongly changes its mitogenic properties. This observation, which supports our thesis that a "fine structure" term can be developed for other reactions triggered by dsRNA's in biological systems, emphasizes that diverse biological effects may be encountered with an ostensibly uniform family of dsRNA's.