Research Article

MAVS, cGAS, and endogenous retroviruses in T-independent B cell responses

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Science  19 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6216, pp. 1486-1492
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6216.1486

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Multivalent molecules with repetitive structures including bacterial capsular polysaccharides and viral capsids elicit antibody responses through B cell receptor (BCR) crosslinking in the absence of T cell help. We report that immunization with these T cell–independent type 2 (TI-2) antigens causes up-regulation of endogenous retrovirus (ERV) RNAs in antigen-specific mouse B cells. These RNAs are detected via a mitochondrial antiviral signaling protein (MAVS)–dependent RNA sensing pathway or reverse-transcribed and detected via the cGAS-cGAMP-STING pathway, triggering a second, sustained wave of signaling that promotes specific immunoglobulin M production. Deficiency of both MAVS and cGAS, or treatment of MAVS-deficient mice with reverse transcriptase inhibitors, dramatically inhibits TI-2 antibody responses. These findings suggest that ERV and two innate sensing pathways that detect them are integral components of the TI-2 B cell signaling apparatus.

Endogenous retroviruses trigger B cells

Scattered across our genome are endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), ancient “footprints” of previous viral infections. Scientists do not fully understand their functions, but Zeng et al. now report a role for ERVs in mobilizing a particular type of B cell–driven immune response in mice (T cell–independent, TID), which is usually mounted in response to viral capids or bacterial polysaccharides (see the Perspective by Grasset and Cerutti). Immunizing mice with a model TID antigen elicited an increase in ERV RNA and DNA in the cytoplasm of B cells. Innate immune receptors that recognize cytoplasmic nucleotides then triggered signaling cascades that resulted in the production of immunoglobulin M.

Science, this issue p. 1486; see also p. 1454

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