JOURNAL ARTICLE

Murine Hepatitis Virus nsp14 Exoribonuclease Activity Is Required for Resistance to Innate Immunity

James Brett Case, Yize Li, Ruth Elliott, Xiaotao Lu, Kevin W Graepel, Nicole R Sexton, Everett Clinton Smith, Susan R Weiss, Mark R Denison
Journal of Virology 2018 January 1, 92 (1)
29046453
Coronaviruses (CoVs) are positive-sense RNA viruses that infect numerous mammalian and avian species and are capable of causing severe and lethal disease in humans. CoVs encode several innate immune antagonists that counteract the host innate immune response to facilitate efficient viral replication. CoV nonstructural protein 14 (nsp14) encodes 3'-to-5' exoribonuclease activity (ExoN), which performs a proofreading function and is required for high-fidelity replication. Outside of the order Nidovirales , arenaviruses are the only RNA viruses that encode an ExoN, which functions to degrade double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) replication intermediates. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that CoV ExoN also functions to antagonize the innate immune response. We demonstrate that viruses lacking ExoN activity [ExoN(-)] are sensitive to cellular pretreatment with interferon beta (IFN-β) in a dose-dependent manner. In addition, ExoN(-) virus replication was attenuated in wild-type bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMMs) and partially restored in interferon alpha/beta receptor-deficient (IFNAR-/- ) BMMs. ExoN(-) virus replication did not result in IFN-β gene expression, and in the presence of an IFN-β-mediated antiviral state, ExoN(-) viral RNA levels were not substantially reduced relative to those of untreated samples. However, ExoN(-) virus generated from IFN-β-pretreated cells had reduced specific infectivity and decreased relative fitness, suggesting that ExoN(-) virus generated during an antiviral state is less viable to establish a subsequent infection. Overall, our data suggest murine hepatitis virus (MHV) ExoN activity is required for resistance to the innate immune response, and antiviral mechanisms affecting the viral RNA sequence and/or an RNA modification act on viruses lacking ExoN activity. IMPORTANCE CoVs encode multiple antagonists that prevent or disrupt an efficient innate immune response. Additionally, no specific antiviral therapies or vaccines currently exist for human CoV infections. Therefore, the study of CoV innate immune antagonists is essential for understanding how CoVs overcome host defenses and to maximize potential therapeutic interventions. Here, we sought to determine the contributions of nsp14 ExoN activity in the induction of and resistance to the innate immune response. We show that viruses lacking nsp14 ExoN activity are more sensitive than wild-type MHV to restriction by exogenous IFN-β and that viruses produced in the presence of an antiviral state are less capable of establishing a subsequent viral infection. Our results support the hypothesis that murine hepatitis virus ExoN activity is required for resistance to the innate immune response.

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