RNA Interference Functions as an Antiviral Immunity Mechanism in Mammals

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Science  11 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6155, pp. 231-234
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241911

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Viral Defenses

In plants and invertebrates, RNA interference (RNAi) functions as an innate antiviral defense mechanism. Viruses that infect plants and invertebrates have evolved viral suppressors of RNAi (VSRs) that disable the RNAi pathway. Whether mammals use RNAi as a defense against viruses has been less clear (see the Perspective by Sagan and Sarnow). Li et al. (p. 231) and Maillard et al. (p. 235) studied mammalian cell lines and baby mice productively infected with RNA viruses and observed the production of virus-derived small RNAs (vsRNAs). When the putative VSR proteins of the infecting viruses were disabled, host RNAi-derived vsRNAs were much increased and the viruses were rapidly cleared and unable to mount a full-blown infection. Thus, RNAi also has an innate antiviral function in mammals.


Diverse eukaryotic hosts produce virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to direct antiviral immunity by RNA interference (RNAi). However, it remains unknown whether the mammalian RNAi pathway has a natural antiviral function. Here, we show that infection of hamster cells and suckling mice by Nodamura virus (NoV), a mosquito-transmissible RNA virus, requires RNAi suppression by its B2 protein. Loss of B2 expression or its suppressor activity leads to abundant production of viral siRNAs and rapid clearance of the mutant viruses in mice. However, viral small RNAs detected during virulent infection by NoV do not have the properties of canonical siRNAs. These findings have parallels with the induction and suppression of antiviral RNAi by the related Flock house virus in fruit flies and nematodes and reveal a mammalian antiviral immunity mechanism mediated by RNAi.

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