Cytosolic recognition of DNA has emerged as a critical cellular mechanism of host immune activation upon pathogen invasion. The central cytosolic DNA sensor cGAS activates STING, which is phosphorylated, dimerises and translocates from the ER to a perinuclear region to mediate IRF-3 activation. Poxviruses are dsDNA viruses replicating in the cytosol and hence likely to trigger cytosolic DNA sensing. Here we investigated the activation of innate immune signalling by 4 different strains of the prototypic poxvirus vaccinia virus (VACV) in a cell line proficient in DNA sensing. Infection with the attenuated VACV strain MVA activated IRF-3 via cGAS and STING, and accordingly STING dimerised and was phosphorylated during MVA infection. Conversely, VACV strains Copenhagen and Western Reserve inhibited STING dimerisation and phosphorylation during infection and in response to transfected DNA and cGAMP, thus efficiently suppressing DNA sensing and IRF-3 activation. A VACV deletion mutant lacking protein C16, thought to be the only viral DNA sensing inhibitor acting upstream of STING, retained the ability to block STING activation. Similar inhibition of DNA-induced STING activation was also observed for cowpox and ectromelia viruses. Our data demonstrate that virulent poxviruses possess mechanisms for targeting DNA sensing at the level of the cGAS-STING axis and that these mechanisms do not operate in replication-defective strains such as MVA. These findings shed light on the role of cellular DNA sensing in poxvirus-host interactions and will open new avenues to determine its impact on VACV immunogenicity and virulence.
Ankyrin repeat (ANK) domains are one of the most abundant motifs in eukaryotic proteins. ANK proteins are rare
amongst viruses with the exception of poxviruses, which presumably acquired them from the host via horizontal gene
transfer. The architecture of poxvirus ANK proteins is however different from their cellular counterparts and this
precludes a direct acquisition event. Here we combine bioinformatics analysis and quantitative proteomics to discover
a new class of viral ANK proteins with a domain organisation that relates to cellular ANK proteins. These non-canonical
viral ANK proteins, termed ANK/BC, interact with host Cullin-2 via a C-terminal BC box resembling that of cellular
Cullin-2 substrate adaptors such as the von Hippel-Lindau protein. Mutagenesis of the BC box-like sequence
abrogates binding to Cullin-2, whereas fusion of this motif to an ANK-only protein confers Cullin-2 association. We
demonstrate that these viral ANK/BC proteins are potent immunomodulatory proteins suppressing the activation of the
pro-inflammatory transcription factors NF-ºB and IRF-3 and the production of cytokines and chemokines including
interferon, and that association with Cullin-2 is required for optimal inhibitory activity. ANK/BC proteins exist in several
orthopoxviruses and cluster into 2 closely related orthologue groups in a phylogenetic lineage that is separate from
canonical ANK/F-box proteins. Given the existence of cellular proteins with similar architecture, viral ANK/BC proteins
may be closely related to the original ANK gene acquired by an ancestral orthopoxvirus. These findings uncover a
novel viral strategy to antagonise innate immunity and shed light on the origin of the poxviral ANK protein family.
Hernáez Bruno, Alonso Graciela, Georgana Iliana, El-Jesr Misbah, Martín Rocío, Shair Kathy H. Y., Fischer Cornelius, Sauer Sascha, Maluquer de Motes Carlos, Alcamí Antonio (2020) Viral cGAMP nuclease reveals the essential role of DNA sensing in protection against acute lethal virus infection,Science Advances
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Cells contain numerous immune sensors to detect virus infection. The cyclic GMP-AMP (cGAMP) synthase (cGAS) recognizes cytosolic DNA and activates innate immune responses via stimulator 2of interferon genes (STING), but the impact of DNA sensing pathways on host protective responses has not been fully defined. We demonstrate that cGAS/STING activation is required to resist lethal poxvirus infection. We identified viral Schlafen (vSlfn) as the main STING inhibitor and ectromelia virus was severely attenuated in the absence of vSlfn. Both vSlfn-mediated virulence and STING inhibitory activity mapped to the recently discovered poxin cGAMP nuclease domain. Animals were protected from subcutaneous, respiratory and intravenous infection in the absence of vSlfn, and interferon was the main anti-viral protective mechanism controlled by the DNA sensing pathway. Our findings support that manipulation of DNA sensing is an efficient therapeutic strategy in diseases triggered by viral infection or tissue damage-mediated release of self-DNA.