Rebecca Sumner

Dr Rebecca Sumner

Senior Research Fellow
BSc, MRes, PhD, PGCert


Research interests


Postgraduate research supervision


Nnaemeka Ndodo, Jonathan Ashcroft, Kuiama Lewandowski, Adesola Yinka-Ogunleye, Chimaobi Chukwu, Adama Ahmad, David King, Afolabi Akinpelu, Carlos Maluquer de Motes, Paolo Ribeca, Rebecca P. Sumner, Andrew Rambaut, Michael Chester, Tom Maishman, Oluwafemi Bamidele, Nwando Mba, Olajumoke Babatunde, Olusola Aruna, Steven T. Pullan, Benedict Gannon, Colin S. Brown, Chikwe Ihekweazu, Ifedayo Adetifa, David O. Ulaeto (2023)Distinct monkeypox virus lineages co-circulating in humans before 2022, In: Nature medicine29(9)pp. 2317-2324 Nature Publishing Group US

The 2022 global mpox outbreak raises questions about how this zoonotic disease established effective human-to-human transmission and its potential for further adaptation. The 2022 outbreak virus is related to an ongoing outbreak in Nigeria originally reported in 2017, but the evolutionary path linking the two remains unclear due to a lack of genomic data between 2018, when virus exportations from Nigeria were first recorded, and 2022, when the global mpox outbreak began. Here, 18 viral genomes obtained from patients across southern Nigeria in 2019–2020 reveal multiple lineages of monkeypox virus (MPXV) co-circulated in humans for several years before 2022, with progressive accumulation of mutations consistent with APOBEC3 activity over time. We identify Nigerian A.2 lineage isolates, confirming the lineage that has been multiply exported to North America independently of the 2022 outbreak originated in Nigeria, and that it has persisted by human-to-human transmission in Nigeria for more than 2 years before its latest exportation. Finally, we identify a lineage-defining APOBEC3-style mutation in all A.2 isolates that disrupts gene A46R , encoding a viral innate immune modulator. Collectively, our data demonstrate MPXV capacity for sustained diversification within humans, including mutations that may be consistent with established mechanisms of poxvirus adaptation. Analysis of monkeypox virus (MPXV) isolates circulating in Nigeria before the 2022 global outbreak of MPXV sheds light on the diversification of the virus that eventually gave rise to the 2022 MPXV lineage.

Lorena Zuliani-Alvarez, Morten L Govasli, Jane Rasaiyaah, Chris Monit, Stephen O Perry, Rebecca P Sumner, Simon McAlpine-Scott, Claire Dickson, K M Rifat Faysal, Laura Hilditch, Richard J Miles, Frederic Bibollet-Ruche, Beatrice H Hahn, Till Boecking, Nikos Pinotsis, Leo C James, David A Jacques, Greg J Towers (2022)Evasion of cGAS and TRIM5 defines pandemic HIV, In: Nature microbiology7(11)pp. 1762-1776 Nature Research

Of the 13 known independent zoonoses of simian immunodeficiency viruses to humans, only one, leading to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) type 1(M) has become pandemic, causing over 80 million human infections. To understand the specific features associated with pandemic human-to-human HIV spread, we compared replication of HIV-1(M) with non-pandemic HIV-(O) and HIV-2 strains in myeloid cell models. We found that non-pandemic HIV lineages replicate less well than HIV-1(M) owing to activation of cGAS and TRIM5-mediated antiviral responses. We applied phylogenetic and X-ray crystallography structural analyses to identify differences between pandemic and non-pandemic HIV capsids. We found that genetic reversal of two specific amino acid adaptations in HIV-1(M) enables activation of TRIM5, cGAS and innate immune responses. We propose a model in which the parental lineage of pandemic HIV-1(M) evolved a capsid that prevents cGAS and TRIM5 triggering, thereby allowing silent replication in myeloid cells. We hypothesize that this capsid adaptation promotes human-to-human spread through avoidance of innate immune response activation.

Seth A. Domfeh, Patrick W. Narkwa, Osbourne Quaye, Kwadwo A. Kusi, Bright S. Addy, Sian Lant, Rebecca P. Sumner, Carlos Maluquer de Motes, Gordon A. Awandare, Charles Ansah, Mohamed Mutocheluh (2022)The Pharmacologically Active Alkaloid Cryptolepine Activates a Type 1 Interferon Response That Is Independent of MAVS and STING Pathways, In: Journal of Immunology Research20228873536 Hindawi

Type 1 interferons (IFN-1) are pleiotropic cytokines with well-established anticancer and antiviral properties, particularly in mucosal tissues. Hence, natural IFN-1-inducing treatments are highly sought after in the clinic. Here, we report for the first time that cryptolepine, a pharmacoactive alkaloid in the medicinal plant Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, is a potent IFN-1 pathway inducer. Cryptolepine increased the transcript levels of JAK1, TYK2, STAT1, STAT2, IRF9, and OAS3, as well as increased the accumulation of STAT1 and OAS3 proteins, similar to recombinant human IFN-α. Cryptolepine effects were observed in multiple cell types including a model of human macrophages. This response was maintained in MAVS and STING-deficient cell lines, suggesting that cryptolepine effects are not mediated by nucleic acids released upon nuclear or organelle damage. In agreement, cryptolepine did not affect cell viability in concentrations that triggered potent IFN-1 activation. In addition, we observed no differences in the presence of a pharmacological inhibitor of TBK1, a pleiotropic kinase that is a converging point for Toll-like receptors (TLRs) and nucleic acid sensors. Together, our results demonstrate that cryptolepine is a strong inducer of IFN-1 response and suggest that cryptolepine-based medications such as C. sanguinolenta extract could be potentially tested in resource-limited regions of the world for the management of chronic viral infections as well as cancers.

Douglas L. Fink, James Cai, Matthew V. X. Whelan, Christopher Monit, Carlos Maluquer de Motes, Greg J. Towers, Rebecca P. Sumner (2022)HIV-2/SIV Vpx antagonises NF-κB activation by targeting p65, In: Retrovirology19(2) BMC

Background The NF-κB family of transcription factors and associated signalling pathways are abundant and ubiquitous in human immune responses. Activation of NF-κB transcription factors by viral pathogen-associated molecular patterns, such as viral RNA and DNA, is fundamental to anti-viral innate immune defences and pro-inflammatory cytokine production that steers adaptive immune responses. Diverse non-viral stimuli, such as lipopolysaccharide and cytokines, also activate NF-κB and the same anti-pathogen gene networks. Viruses adapted to human cells often encode multiple proteins targeting the NF-κB pathway to mitigate the anti-viral effects of NF-κB-dependent host immunity. Results In this study we have demonstrated using a variety of assays, in a number of different cell types including primary cells, that plasmid-encoded or virus-delivered simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) accessory protein Vpx is a broad antagonist of NF-κB signalling active against diverse innate NF-κB agonists. Using targeted Vpx mutagenesis, we showed that this novel Vpx phenotype is independent of known Vpx cofactor DCAF1 and other cellular binding partners, including SAMHD1, STING and the HUSH complex. We found that Vpx co-immunoprecipitated with canonical NF-κB transcription factor p65, but not NF-κB family members p50 or p100, preventing nuclear translocation of p65. We found that broad antagonism of NF-κB activation by Vpx was conserved across distantly related lentiviruses as well as for Vpr from SIV Mona monkey (SIVmon), which has Vpx-like SAMHD1-degradation activity. Conclusions We have discovered a novel mechanism by which lentiviruses antagonise NF-κB activation by targeting p65. These findings extend our knowledge of how lentiviruses manipulate universal regulators of immunity to avoid the anti-viral sequelae of pro-inflammatory gene expression stimulated by both viral and extra-viral agonists. Importantly our findings are also relevant to the gene therapy field where virus-like particle associated Vpx is routinely used to enhance vector transduction through antagonism of SAMHD1, and perhaps also through manipulation of NF-κB.

Joe Holley, REBECCA SUMNER, SIAN FRANCES LANT, Paolo Ribeca, David Ulaeto, CARLOS MALUQUER DE MOTES (2021)Engineered promoter-switched viruses reveal the role of poxvirus maturation protein a26 as a negative regulator of viral spread, In: Journal of virologyJVI0101221

Vaccinia virus produces two types of virions known as single-membraned intracellular mature virus (MV) and double-membraned extracellular enveloped virus (EV). EV production peaks earlier when initial MV are further wrapped and secreted to spread infection within the host. However, late during infection MV accumulate intracellularly and become important for host-to-host transmission. The process that regulates this switch remains elusive and is thought to be influenced by host factors. Here we examined the hypothesis that EV and MV production are regulated by the virus through expression of F13 and the MV-specific protein A26. By switching the promoters and altering the expression kinetics of F13 and A26, we demonstrate that A26 expression downregulates EV production and plaque size, thus limiting viral spread. This process correlates with A26 association with the MV surface protein A27 and exclusion of F13, thus reducing EV titres. Thus, MV maturation is controlled by the abundance of the viral A26 protein, independently of other factors, and is rate-limiting for EV production. The A26 gene is conserved within vertebrate poxviruses, but strikingly lost in poxviruses known to be transmitted exclusively by biting arthropods. A26-mediated virus maturation thus has the appearance to be an ancient evolutionary adaptation to enhance transmission of poxviruses that has subsequently been lost from vector-adapted species, for which it may serve as a genetic signature. The existence of virus-regulated mechanisms to produce virions adapted to fulfil different functions represents a novel level of complexity in mammalian viruses with major impact on evolution, adaptation and transmission.

C Maluquer de Motes, T Schiffner, RP Sumner, GL Smith (2014)Vaccinia virus virulence factor N1 can be ubiquitylated on multiple lysine residues., In: J Gen Virol95(Pt 9)pp. 2038-2049

Ubiquitylation is a covalent post-translational modification that regulates protein stability and is involved in many biological functions. Proteins may be modified with mono-ubiquitin or ubiquitin chains. Viruses have evolved multiple mechanisms to perturb the cell ubiquitin system and manipulate it to their own benefit. Here, we report ubiquitylation of vaccinia virus (VACV) protein N1. N1 is an inhibitor of the nuclear factor NF-κB and apoptosis that contributes to virulence, has a Bcl-2-like fold, and is highly conserved amongst orthopoxviruses. The interaction between N1 and ubiquitin occurs at endogenous protein levels during VACV infection and following ectopic expression of N1. Biochemical analysis demonstrated that N1 is covalently ubiquitylated, and heterodimers of ubiquitylated and non-ubiquitylated N1 monomers were identified, suggesting that ubiquitylation does not inhibit N1 dimerization. Studies with other VACV Bcl-2 proteins, such as C6 or B14, revealed that although these proteins also interact with ubiquitin, these interactions are non-covalent. Finally, mutagenesis of N1 showed that ubiquitylation occurs in a conventional lysine-dependent manner at multiple acceptor sites because only an N1 allele devoid of lysine residues remained unmodified. Taken together, we described a previously uncharacterized modification of the VACV protein N1 that provided a new layer of complexity to the biology of this virulence factor, and provided another example of the intricate interplay between poxviruses and the host ubiquitin system.

Iliana Georgana, Rebecca P. Sumner, Greg J. Towers, Carlos Maluquer de Motes (2018)Virulent poxviruses inhibit DNA sensing by preventing STING activation, In: Journal of Virology92(10)e02145-17pp. e02145-17 American Society for Microbiology

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.

Rebecca P. Sumner, Lauren Harrison, Emma Touizer, Thomas P. Peacock, Matthew Spencer, Lorena Zuliani-Alvarez, Greg J. Towers (2020)DisruptingHIV-1 capsid formation causescGASsensing of viral DNA, In: The EMBO journal39(20) Wiley

Detection of viralDNAby cyclicGMP-AMPsynthase (cGAS) is a first line of defence leading to the production of type I interferon (IFN). AsHIV-1 replication is not a strong inducer ofIFN, we hypothesised that an intact capsid physically cloaks viralDNAfromcGAS. To test this, we generated defective viral particles by treatment withHIV-1 protease inhibitors or by genetic manipulation ofgag. These viruses had defective Gag cleavage, reduced infectivity and diminished capacity to saturateTRIM5 alpha. Importantly, unlike wild-typeHIV-1, infection with cleavage defectiveHIV-1 triggered anIFNresponse inTHP-1 cells that was dependent on viralDNAandcGAS. AnIFNresponse was also observed in primary human macrophages infected with cleavage defective viruses. Infection in the presence of the capsid destabilising small moleculePF-74 also induced acGAS-dependentIFNresponse. These data demonstrate a protective role for capsid and suggest that antiviral activity of capsid- and protease-targeting antivirals may benefit from enhanced innate and adaptive immunityin vivo.

Jennifer H Stuart, Rebecca P Sumner, Yongxu Lu, Joseph S Snowden, Geoffrey L Smith (2016)Vaccinia Virus Protein C6 Inhibits Type I IFN Signalling in the Nucleus and Binds to the Transactivation Domain of STAT2, In: PLoS pathogens12(12)pp. e1005955-e1005955

The type I interferon (IFN) response is a crucial innate immune signalling pathway required for defense against viral infection. Accordingly, the great majority of mammalian viruses possess means to inhibit this important host immune response. Here we show that vaccinia virus (VACV) strain Western Reserve protein C6, is a dual function protein that inhibits the cellular response to type I IFNs in addition to its published function as an inhibitor of IRF-3 activation, thereby restricting type I IFN production from infected cells. Ectopic expression of C6 inhibits the induction of interferon stimulated genes (ISGs) in response to IFNα treatment at both the mRNA and protein level. C6 inhibits the IFNα-induced Janus kinase/signal transducer and activator of transcription (JAK/STAT) signalling pathway at a late stage, downstream of STAT1 and STAT2 phosphorylation, nuclear translocation and binding of the interferon stimulated gene factor 3 (ISGF3) complex to the interferon stimulated response element (ISRE). Mechanistically, C6 associates with the transactivation domain of STAT2 and this might explain how C6 inhibits the type I IFN signalling very late in the pathway. During virus infection C6 reduces ISRE-dependent gene expression despite the presence of the viral protein phosphatase VH1 that dephosphorylates STAT1 and STAT2. The ability of a cytoplasmic replicating virus to dampen the immune response within the nucleus, and the ability of viral immunomodulators such as C6 to inhibit multiple stages of the innate immune response by distinct mechanisms, emphasizes the intricacies of host-pathogen interactions and viral immune evasion.

Carolina B. Ferreira, Rebecca P. Sumner, Maria T. Rodriguez-Plata, Jane Rasaiyaah, Richard S. Milne, Adrian J. Thrasher, Waseem Qasim, Greg J. Towers (2020)Lentiviral Vector Production Titer Is Not Limited in HEK293T by Induced Intracellular Innate Immunity, In: Molecular therapy. Methods & clinical development17pp. 209-219 Elsevier Inc

Most gene therapy lentiviral vector (LV) production platforms employ HEK293T cells expressing the oncogenic SV40 large T-antigen (TAg) that is thought to promote plasmid-mediated gene expression. Studies on other viral oncogenes suggest that TAg may also inhibit the intracellular autonomous innate immune system that triggers defensive antiviral responses upon detection of viral components by cytosolic sensors. Here we show that an innate response can be generated after HIV-1-derived LV transfection in HEK293T cells, particularly by the transgene, yet, remarkably, this had no effect on LV titer. Further, overexpression of DNA sensing pathway components led to expression of inflammatory cytokine and interferon (IFN) stimulated genes but did not result in detectable IFN or CXCL10 and had no impact on LV titer. Exogenous IFN-β also did not affect LV production or transduction efficiency in primary T cells. Additionally, manipulation of TAg did not affect innate antiviral responses, but stable expression of TAg boosted vector production in HEK293 cells. Our findings demonstrate a measure of innate immune competence in HEK293T cells but, crucially, show that activation of inflammatory signaling is uncoupled from cytokine secretion in these cells. This provides new mechanistic insight into the unique suitability of HEK293T cells for LV manufacture.

Leonie Unterholzner, Rebecca P. Sumner, Marcin Baran, Hongwei Ren, Daniel S. Mansur, Nollaig M. Bourke, Felix Randow, Geoffrey L. Smith, Andrew G. Bowie (2011)Vaccinia Virus Protein C6 Is a Virulence Factor that Binds TBK-1 Adaptor Proteins and Inhibits Activation of IRF3 and IRF7, In: PLoS pathogens7(9)pp. e1002247-e1002247 Public Library of Science

Recognition of viruses by pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) causes interferon-β (IFN-β) induction, a key event in the anti-viral innate immune response, and also a target of viral immune evasion. Here the vaccinia virus (VACV) protein C6 is identified as an inhibitor of PRR-induced IFN-β expression by a functional screen of select VACV open reading frames expressed individually in mammalian cells. C6 is a member of a family of Bcl-2-like poxvirus proteins, many of which have been shown to inhibit innate immune signalling pathways. PRRs activate both NF-κB and IFN regulatory factors (IRFs) to activate the IFN-β promoter induction. Data presented here show that C6 inhibits IRF3 activation and translocation into the nucleus, but does not inhibit NF-κB activation. C6 inhibits IRF3 and IRF7 activation downstream of the kinases TANK binding kinase 1 (TBK1) and IκB kinase-ε (IKKε), which phosphorylate and activate these IRFs. However, C6 does not inhibit TBK1- and IKKε-independent IRF7 activation or the induction of promoters by constitutively active forms of IRF3 or IRF7, indicating that C6 acts at the level of the TBK1/IKKε complex. Consistent with this notion, C6 immunoprecipitated with the TBK1 complex scaffold proteins TANK, SINTBAD and NAP1. C6 is expressed early during infection and is present in both nucleus and cytoplasm. Mutant viruses in which the C6L gene is deleted, or mutated so that the C6 protein is not expressed, replicated normally in cell culture but were attenuated in two in vivo models of infection compared to wild type and revertant controls. Thus C6 contributes to VACV virulence and might do so via the inhibition of PRR-induced activation of IRF3 and IRF7. A key event in the innate immune response to virus infection is the detection of pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) such as viral DNA and RNA by cellular pattern recognition receptors (PRRs). This leads to expression of interferon-β (IFN-β) by an infected cell. Many viruses have evolved mechanisms to evade the induction of IFN-β. Here a screen of poorly characterized vaccinia virus (VACV) proteins identified protein C6 as an inhibitor of IFN-β induction by PRRs. Data presented show that C6 prevents the activation of the transcription factors IRF3 and IRF7 by the kinases TBK1 and IKKε, which are key components at the point of convergence of several PRR signalling pathways. C6 interacts with the scaffold proteins NAP1, TANK and SINTBAD, which are components of the protein complexes containing TBK1 and IKKε, and this interaction might modulate the activity of these kinases. C6 is expressed early during infection and contributes to virulence because viruses that do not express C6 are attenuated in two in vivo models compared to wild type and revertant control viruses.

Rebecca P. Sumner, Lucy G. Thorne, Doug L. Fink, Hataf Khan, Richard S. Milne, Greg J. Towers (2017)Are Evolution and the Intracellular Innate Immune System Key Determinants in HIV Transmission?, In: Frontiers in immunology8pp. 1246-1246 Frontiers Media S.A

HIV-1 is the single most important sexually transmitted disease in humans from a global health perspective. Among human lentiviruses, HIV-1 M group has uniquely achieved pandemic levels of human-to-human transmission. The requirement to transmit between hosts likely provides the strongest selective forces on a virus, as without transmission, there can be no new infections within a host population. Our perspective is that evolution of all of the virus–host interactions, which are inherited and perpetuated from host-to-host, must be consistent with transmission. For example, CXCR4 use, which often evolves late in infection, does not favor transmission and is therefore lost when a virus transmits to a new host. Thus, transmission inevitably influences all aspects of virus biology, including interactions with the innate immune system, and dictates the biological niche in which the virus exists in the host. A viable viral niche typically does not select features that disfavor transmission. The innate immune response represents a significant selective pressure during the transmission process. In fact, all viruses must antagonize and/or evade the mechanisms of the host innate and adaptive immune systems that they encounter. We believe that viewing host–virus interactions from a transmission perspective helps us understand the mechanistic details of antiviral immunity and viral escape. This is particularly true for the innate immune system, which typically acts from the very earliest stages of the host–virus interaction, and must be bypassed to achieve successful infection. With this in mind, here we review the innate sensing of HIV, the consequent downstream signaling cascades and the viral restriction that results. The centrality of these mechanisms to host defense is illustrated by the array of countermeasures that HIV deploys to escape them, despite the coding constraint of a 10 kb genome. We consider evasion strategies in detail, in particular the role of the HIV capsid and the viral accessory proteins highlighting important unanswered questions and discussing future perspectives.

Simon R. Scutts, Stuart W. Ember, Hongwei Ren, Chao Ye, Christopher A. Lovejoy, Michela Mazzon, David L. Veyer, Rebecca P. Sumner, Geoffrey L. Smith (2018)DNA-PK Is Targeted by Multiple Vaccinia Virus Proteins to Inhibit DNA Sensing, In: Cell reports (Cambridge)25(7)pp. 1953-1965.e4 Elsevier Inc

Virus infection is sensed by pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) detecting virus nucleic acids and initiating an innate immune response. DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK) is a PRR that binds cytosolic DNA and is antagonized by vaccinia virus (VACV) protein C16. Here, VACV protein C4 is also shown to antagonize DNA-PK by binding to Ku and blocking Ku binding to DNA, leading to a reduced production of cytokines and chemokines in vivo and a diminished recruitment of inflammatory cells. C4 and C16 share redundancy in that a double deletion virus has reduced virulence not seen with single deletion viruses following intradermal infection. However, non-redundant functions exist because both single deletion viruses display attenuated virulence compared to wild-type VACV after intranasal infection. It is notable that VACV expresses two proteins to antagonize DNA-PK, but it is not known to target other DNA sensors, emphasizing the importance of this PRR in the response to infection in vivo. [Display omitted] •DNA-PK is a pattern recognition receptor that binds cytosolic DNA•Vaccinia virus proteins C4 and C16 antagonize DNA-PK by blocking DNA binding•C4 and C16 inhibit IRF3 signaling, cytokine production, and immune cell recruitment•C4 and C16 share redundant and non-redundant functions in vivo DNA-PK is a pattern recognition receptor (PRR) that binds cytosolic DNA and stimulates IRF3 signaling. Scutts et al. show that vaccinia virus antagonizes this DNA sensor with two proteins, C4 and C16, which both block DNA binding.

Christopher Hc Tie, Liane Fernandes, Lucia Conde, Luisa Robbez-Masson, Rebecca P Sumner, Tom Peacock, Maria Teresa Rodriguez-Plata, Greta Mickute, Robert Gifford, Greg J Towers, Javier Herrero, Helen M Rowe (2018)KAP1 regulates endogenous retroviruses in adult human cells and contributes to innate immune control, In: EMBO reports19(10)

Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) have accumulated in vertebrate genomes and contribute to the complexity of gene regulation. KAP1 represses ERVs during development by its recruitment to their repetitive sequences through KRAB zinc-finger proteins (KZNFs), but little is known about the regulation of ERVs in adult tissues. We observed that KAP1 repression of HERVK14C was conserved in differentiated human cells and performed KAP1 knockout to obtain an overview of KAP1 function. Our results show that KAP1 represses ERVs (including HERV-T and HERV-S) and ZNF genes, both of which overlap with KAP1 binding sites and H3K9me3 in multiple cell types. Furthermore, this pathway is functionally conserved in adult human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Cytosine methylation that acts on KAP1 regulated loci is necessary to prevent an interferon response, and KAP1-depletion leads to activation of some interferon-stimulated genes. Finally, loss of KAP1 leads to a decrease in H3K9me3 enrichment at ERVs and ZNF genes and an RNA-sensing response mediated through MAVS signaling. These data indicate that the KAP1-KZNF pathway contributes to genome stability and innate immune control in adult human cells.

Hataf Khan, Rebecca P. Sumner, Jane Rasaiyaah, Choon Ping Tan, Maria Teresa Rodriguez-Plata, Chris Van Tulleken, Douglas Fink, Lorena Zuliani-Alvarez, Lucy Thorne, David Stirling, Richard Milne, Greg J. Towers (2020)HIV-1 Vpr antagonizes innate immune activation by targeting karyopherin-mediated NF-kappa B/IRF3 nuclear transport, In: eLife9pp. 1-29 Elife Sciences Publications Ltd

HIV-1 must replicate in cells that are equipped to defend themselves from infection through intracellular innate immune systems. HIV-1 evades innate immune sensing through encapsidated DNA synthesis and encodes accessory genes that antagonize specific antiviral effectors. Here, we show that both particle associated, and expressed HIV-1 Vpr, antagonize the stimulatory effect of a variety of pathogen associated molecular patterns by inhibiting IRF3 and NE-kappa B nuclear transport. Phosphorylation of IRF3 at S396, but not S386, was also inhibited. We propose that, rather than promoting HIV-1 nuclear import, Vpr interacts with karyopherins to disturb their import of IRF3 and NE-kappa B to promote replication in macrophages. Concordantly, we demonstrate Vpr-dependent rescue of HIV-1 replication in human macrophages from inhibition by cGAMP, the product of activated cGAS. We propose a model that unifies Vpr manipulation of nuclear import and inhibition of innate immune activation to promote HIV-1 replication and transmission.

Rebecca P. Sumner, Hongwei Ren, Brian J. Ferguson, Geoffrey L. Smith (2016)Increased attenuation but decreased immunogenicity by deletion of multiple vaccinia virus immunomodulators, In: Vaccine34(40)pp. 4827-4834 Elsevier

Vaccinia virus (VACV)-derived vectors are popular candidates for vaccination against diseases such as HIV-1, malaria and tuberculosis. However, their genomes encode a multitude of proteins with immunomodulatory functions, several of which reduce the immunogenicity of these vectors. Hitherto only limited studies have investigated whether the removal of these immunomodulatory genes in combination can increase vaccine efficacy further. To this end we constructed viruses based on VACV strain Western Reserve (WR) lacking up to three intracellular innate immunomodulators (N1, C6 and K7). These genes were selected because the encoded proteins had known functions in innate immunity and the deletion of each gene individually had caused a decrease in virus virulence in the murine intranasal and intradermal models of infection and an increase in immunogenicity. Data presented here demonstrate that deletion of two, or three of these genes in combination attenuated the virus further in an incremental manner. However, when vaccinated mice were challenged with VACV WR the double and triple gene deletion viruses provided weaker protection against challenge. This was accompanied by inferior memory CD8(+) T cell responses and lower neutralising antibody titres. This study indicates that, at least for the three genes studied in the context of VACV WR, the single gene deletion viruses are the best vaccine vectors, and that increased attenuation induced by deletion of additional genes decreased immunogenicity. These data highlight the fine balance and complex relationship between viral attenuation and immunogenicity. Given that the proteins encoded by the genes examined in this study are known to affect specific aspects of innate immunity, the set of viruses constructed here are interesting tools to probe the role of the innate immune response in influencing immune memory and vaccine efficacy. (C) 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Brian J. Ferguson, Camilla T. O. Benfield, Hongwei Ren, Vivian H. Lee, Gordon L. Frazer, Pavia Strnadova, Rebecca P. Sumner, Geoffrey L. Smith (2013)Vaccinia virus protein N2 is a nuclear IRF3 inhibitor that promotes virulence, In: Journal of general virology94(9)pp. 2070-2081 SOC GENERAL MICROBIOLOGY

Vaccinia virus (VACV) expresses many proteins that are non-essential for virus replication but promote virulence by inhibiting components of the host immune response to infection. These immunomodulators include a family of proteins that have, or are predicted to have, a structure related to the B-cell lymphoma (Bcl)-2 protein. Five members of the VACV Bcl-2 family (N1, B14, A52, F1 and K7) have had their crystal structure solved, others have been characterized and a function assigned (06, A46), and others are predicted to be Bcl-2 proteins but are uncharacterized hitherto (N2, B22, C1). Data presented here show that N2 is a nuclear protein that is expressed early during infection and inhibits the activation of interferon regulatory factor (IRF)3. Consistent with its nuclear localization, N2 inhibits IRF3 downstream of the TANK-binding kinase (TBK)-1 and after IRF3 translocation into the nucleus. A mutant VACV strain Western Reserve lacking the N2L gene (v Delta N2) showed normal replication and spread in cultured cells compared to wild-type parental (vN2) and revertant (vN2-rev) viruses, but was attenuated in two murine models of infection. After intranasal infection, the v Delta N2 mutant induced lower weight loss and signs of illness, and virus was cleared more rapidly from the infected tissue. In the intradermal model of infection, v Delta N2 induced smaller lesions that were resolved more rapidly. In summary, the N2 protein is an intracellular virulence factor that inhibits IRF3 activity in the nucleus.

Rebecca P Sumner, Hongwei Ren, Geoffrey L Smith (2013)Deletion of immunomodulator C6 from vaccinia virus strain Western Reserve enhances virus immunogenicity and vaccine efficacy, In: Journal of general virology94(Pt 5)pp. 1121-1126

Vectors based on vaccinia virus (VACV), the vaccine used to eradicate smallpox, are currently popular candidates for the vaccination against numerous infectious diseases including malaria and AIDS. Although VACV induces robust cellular and humoral responses, enhancing the safety and efficacy of these vectors remains an important area of research. Here, we describe the enhanced immunogenicity of a recombinant VACV Western Reserve (WR) strain lacking the immunomodulatory protein C6 (vΔC6). Intradermal infection of mice with vΔC6 was shown previously to induce smaller lesions, indicating viral attenuation, and this was confirmed here using a different inoculation dose. In addition, data presented show that vaccination with vΔC6 provided better protection against challenge with a lethal dose of VACV WR, indicating this virus is a better vaccine. Increased protection was not due to improved humoral responses, but instead enhanced cytotoxic activity of T-cells 1 month post-inoculation in the spleens of vΔC6-vaccinated mice.

Alasdair J. M. Hood, Rebecca P. Sumner, Carlos Maluquer de Motes (2022)Disruption of the cGAS/STING axis does not impair sensing of MVA in BHK21 cells, In: Journal of General Virology103(5) Microbiology Society

Modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA) is an attenuated strain of vaccinia virus (VACV), a dsDNA virus that replicates its genome in the cytoplasm and as a result is canonically sensed by the cyclic GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS) and its downstream stimulator of interferon genes (STING). MVA has a highly restricted host range due to major deletions in its genome including inactivation of immunomodulatory genes, only being able to grow in avian cells and the hamster cell line BHK21. Here we studied the interplay between MVA and the cGAS/STING DNA in this permissive cell line and determined whether manipulation of this axis could impact MVA replication and cell responses. We demonstrate that BHK21 cells retain a functional cGAS/STING axis that responds to canonical DNA sensing agonists, upregulating interferon stimulated genes (ISGs). BHK21 cells also respond to MVA, but with a distinct ISG profile. This profile remains unaltered after CRISPR/Cas9 knock-out editing of STING and ablation of cytosolic DNA responses, indicating that MVA responses are independent of the cGAS/STING axis. Furthermore, infection by MVA diminishes the ability of BHK21 cells to respond to exogenous DNA suggesting that MVA still encodes uncharacterised inhibitors of DNA sensing. This suggests that using attenuated strains in permissive cell lines may assist in identification of novel host-virus interactions that may be of relevance to disease or the therapeutic applications of poxviruses.