Characterization of the Antiviral Effector IFI6




Richardson, Ryan Blake

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The innate immune response is a critical line of host defense against invading pathogens. The production of interferon (IFN) and the subsequent expression of interferon stimulated genes (ISGs) are major contributors to the innate immune response, which establish an antiviral state in the cell. Flaviviruses such as dengue virus, Zika virus, and West Nile virus rely intimately on host pathways for completing a replication cycle, and have developed strategies to overcome the inhibitory effect of the innate immune response. To identify host factors required during an IFN response to flavivirus infection, a genome-wide CRISPR screen was carried out. Two of the top hits from the screen were IFI6, a previously identified ISG long predicted to be antiviral, and BiP, a luminal chaperone in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). I questioned whether IFI6 was important for the antiviral response to flaviviruses and sought to investigate its role during infection. I confirmed the results from the CRISPR screen and showed that cells lacking IFI6 were insensitive to IFN, suggesting a key role in the innate immune response to flaviviruses. This was complemented by overexpression studies which showed IFI6 is potently inhibitory to flavivirus infection. I further demonstrated that BiP is required for an intact IFN response and importantly mediates expression of IFI6, which it binds in a chaperone-dependent manner. I also showed that IFI6 is localized to the ER and is an integral membrane protein. Importantly, IFI6 acts during the flavivirus life cycle to inhibit replication and formation of replication complexes, which are formed by rearrangement of ER membranes. IFI6 specifically inhibits flaviviruses, since other viruses that replicate at the ER such as hepatitis C virus (HCV) are not affected by IFI6. I hypothesize the key to this specificity lies in the orientation of the replication complexes - HCV complexes extend outwards into the cytoplasm while flaviviruses bud inwards into the lumen. Taken together, these data support a model where IFI6 is sensitive to membrane alterations specifically induced by flaviviruses but not other viruses, which provides the innate immune response with a potent and specific ISG to block viral infection.

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