Date of Award

Spring 5-5-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Biology

First Advisor

Margo A. Brinton

Abstract

The induction of type I interferon (IFN) and subsequent activation of interferon stimulated genes (ISGs) represent a first line of defense against viral infection. Typically type I IFN signaling leads to the phosphorylation of the STAT1 and STAT2 transcription factors (TFs) which then form a trimetric complex with IRF-9 and translocate to the nucleus to induce ISG expression. However, the results of this study showed that IFN-mediated upregulation of the ISG Oas1b, the product of which confers resistance to flavivirus induced disease, can be induced in a STAT1-independent manner. Since numerous ISGs have antiviral functions, many viruses have evolved strategies to disrupt the type I IFN-signaling pathway. In cases when STAT1 activation is blocked by a viral infection, STAT1-independent upregulation of ISGs provides an additional strategy for the cell to mount an effective antiviral response. Infection of mouse embryofibroblasts (MEFs) with West Nile virus (WNV) induced the production of IFN beta and STAT1 and STAT2 phosphorylation but blocked nuclear translocation and binding of these TFs to the promoters of the ISGs, Oas1a, Oas1a, Irf7 and Irf1. However, each of these antiviral ISGs was efficiently upregulated in infected cells and IRF-9 was shown to be crucial for the upregulation of Oas1a, Oas1b and Irf-7. IRF-3 or IRF-7 was needed to maintain the upregulation of these genes at later times of infection. In contrast, the upregulation of Irf1 by WNV infection did not depend on the tested IRFs but was reduced by inhibition of the p38 or NF-kappa B pathways. Although Irf1 mRNA was efficiently upregulated in WNV-infected cells IRF-1 protein synthesis was blocked. The precise mechanism of the IRF-1 translational suppression is not yet known, but the suppression was shown not to be due to increased proteasomal degradation of IRF-1 nor to alternative splicing of Irf1 mRNA. Preliminary results suggest miRNAs may play an indirect role in regulating IRF-1 translation.

The results of this study expand knowledge about the strategies evolved by viruses to evade host cell antiviral responses and also provide valuable insights about alternative mechanisms utilized by the host cell to counteract viral infections.

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