The role of a viral microRNA and RNA interference during viral replication in mammalian cells



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RNA interference (RNAi) is an evolutionarily conserved process that regulates gene expression. Host cells and viruses interact in many ways, including through miRNAs and RNAi. Viral miRNAs are encoded when viruses, specially including the the polyoma and herpes families, are transcribed in the nucleus. Some viral miRNAs function to regulate host or viral gene expression. Most viral miRNAs’ functions are not known, however, in great detail. A miRNA can be encoded late during infection, as it is by SV40, a model polyomavirus. This downregulates early viral gene expression by directing mRNA RISC-mediated cleavage. As more polyomaviruses are discovered that are associated with human disease, it becomes more important to understand their function and to uncover whether these emerging viruses encode miRNAs. The work presented here shows the discovery of several viral miRNAs in human polyomaviruses—JCV, BKV, and MCV. In addition, I found that viral miRNAs have the evolutionarily conserved function of negatively regulating viral early gene transcripts at a late stage in the infection. During viral replication, viruses utilize the miRNA components of RNAi. However, in invertebrate organisms RNAi also actively defends against viral infection. It is still being debated, though, whether RNAi plays an antiviral role in mammalian cells. Should it be true that RNAi is an antiviral response in mammalian cells, then what is predicted by such a scenario is inconsistent with my studies. I have found that RNAi is strongly inhibited in the early stages after viral infection. Studies with a chemical mimic of viral infection (poly I:C) imply that the innate cellular immune response is responsible for this inhibition. I investigated the molecular changes, in response to viral infection, (e.g. poly ADP-ribosylation of Ago2) in the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC). I determined that the inhibition of RNAi is brought about by components of the innate response. Completion of this study details a previously unknown “cross talk” between RNAi and the host innate immune response in mammalian cells. Furthermore, I found mir-17 family attenuates a subclass of interferon-stimulated genes. An understanding of viral miRNA and RNAi offers a clue as to we can use molecular intervention for viral infections.