The innate immune response constitutes the first line of defense against viral infection and is extensively regulated through ubiquitination. The removal of ubiquitin from innate immunity signaling factors by deubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs) therefore provides a potential opportunity for viruses to evade this host defense system. It was previously found that specific proteases encoded by the unrelated arteri- and nairoviruses resemble the ovarian tumor domain-containing (OTU) family of DUBs. In arteriviruses, this domain has been characterized before as a papain-like protease (PLP2) that is also involved in replicase polyprotein processing. In nairoviruses, the DUB resides in the polymerase protein but is not essential for RNA replication. Using both in vitro and cell-based assays, we now show that PLP2 DUB activity is conserved in all members of the arterivirus family and that both arteri- and nairovirus DUBs inhibit RIG-I-mediated innate immune signaling when overexpressed. The potential relevance of RIG-I-like receptor (RLR) signaling for the innate immune response against arterivirus infection is supported by our finding that in mouse embryonic fibroblasts, the production of beta interferon primarily depends on the recognition of arterivirus RNA by the pattern-recognition receptor MDA5. Interestingly, we also found that both arteri- and nairovirus DUBs inhibit RIG-I ubiquitination upon overexpression, suggesting that both MDA5 and RIG-I have a role in countering infection by arteriviruses. Taken together, our results support the hypothesis that arteri- and nairoviruses employ their deubiquitinating potential to inactivate cellular proteins involved in RLR-mediated innate immune signaling, as exemplified by the deubiquitination of RIG-I.

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Journal of Virology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

van Kasteren, P., Beugeling, C., Ninaber, D., Frias-Staheli, N., van Boheemen, S., García-Sastre, A., … Kikkert, M. (2012). Arterivirus and nairovirus ovarian tumor domain-containing deubiquitinases target activated RIG-I to control innate immune signaling. Journal of Virology, 86(2), 773–785. doi:10.1128/JVI.06277-11