Systematic analysis of host-cell interactions during human cytomegalovirus infection
Chiweshe, Stephen Masaka
Viruses are obligate intracellular pathogens. Therefore, their successful replication, at every stage from attachment to assembly and egress, is dependent on host cell functions. The host cell in turn engages mechanisms to counteract virus replication. As a result, viruses have evolved mechanisms to evade these counteracting measures as well as ways to reshape the cellular environment into one that’s favourable for successful replication. Systematic studies offer a platform for unravelling virus-cell interactions and in particular can address three important aspects 1) increase our understanding of basic biology of the virus, 2) identify and characterise novel cellular functions 3) provide important leads for novel targets for antiviral therapy. In this study, I investigated two aspects of virus host interaction; the role of microRNAs (miRNAs) in virus infection and the role of interferon inducible genes in virus infection. Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a β herpes virus that infects humans. HCMV maintains a persistent lifelong infection in the host involving a cycle of latency and reactivation. Infection of healthy individuals with HCMV results in relatively minor symptoms. In contrast, infection of individuals with a compromised immune system, as in the case of organ transplant recipients and AIDS patients, can cause significant morbidity and mortality. In common with other herpes viruses, HCMV expresses multiple small regulatory RNAs called miRNAs. HCMV encodes at least 14 miRNAs. Identifying the targets of these miRNAs will help us understand their functional importance during infection. Recently, a biochemical technique called Cross-Linking, Ligation and Sequencing of Hybrids (CLASH), was developed by Tollervey and colleagues, representing the most advanced systematic technique for the identification of miRNA targets. We adapted this approach to identify high confidence miRNA targets during HCMV infection. However, the protocol was sub-optimal and presented us with technical challenges. Although high quality data sets were not generated, the work was crucial for the establishment of the system which is now generating promising data. Virus-cell interactions can also be elucidated by probing for host factors that are important for virus replication. Type I interferon is a highly effective inhibitor of HCMV replication. Treatment of cells with interferon results in up regulation of multiple effectors known as interferon stimulated genes (ISGs). How these genes block HCMV replication is poorly understood. A library of more than 380 ISG expressing lentiviruses was screened to determine the effects of individual ISGs on HCMV replication. The screen was performed in primary human fibroblast cells and a glioblastoma cell line called U373s. Multiple inhibitory ISGs were identified including well characterised ISGs such as cGAS, STAT2, NOD2, DDX60 and HPSE as well as novel candidates TXNIP, ELF1, FAM46C, MT1H and CHMP5. Five ISGs were identified as HCMV replication enhancers including previously published ISGs BST2 and IFITM1 and novel enhancers ODC1, BCL3 and IL28RA. siRNA screens against top hits demonstrated that STAT2, CPT1A and cGAS are dominant inhibitory factors during HCMV infection and knockdown of these genes can partially rescue HCMV replication following interferon treatment. Finally, using a corresponding rhesus ISG library we show that rhesus SAMHD1 effectively inhibits HCMV replication while human SAMHD1 has no effect, suggesting that HCMV expresses a species-specific inhibitor of SAMHD1. This study defines interferon stimulated pathways important for HCMV replication and identifies multiple novel host factors that both restrict and enhance HCMV replication. These studies demonstrate the effectiveness of using systematic approaches for the identification of novel host virus interactions.
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