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Cell. 2009 Aug 7;138(3):576-91. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2009.06.015. Epub 2009 Jul 23.

RNA polymerase III detects cytosolic DNA and induces type I interferons through the RIG-I pathway.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX 75390-9148, USA.


Type I interferons (IFNs) are important for antiviral and autoimmune responses. Retinoic acid-induced gene I (RIG-I) and mitochondrial antiviral signaling (MAVS) proteins mediate IFN production in response to cytosolic double-stranded RNA or single-stranded RNA containing 5'-triphosphate (5'-ppp). Cytosolic B form double-stranded DNA, such as poly(dA-dT)*poly(dA-dT) [poly(dA-dT)], can also induce IFN-beta, but the underlying mechanism is unknown. Here, we show that the cytosolic poly(dA-dT) DNA is converted into 5'-ppp RNA to induce IFN-beta through the RIG-I pathway. Biochemical purification led to the identification of DNA-dependent RNA polymerase III (Pol-III) as the enzyme responsible for synthesizing 5'-ppp RNA from the poly(dA-dT) template. Inhibition of RNA Pol-III prevents IFN-beta induction by transfection of DNA or infection with DNA viruses. Furthermore, Pol-III inhibition abrogates IFN-beta induction by the intracellular bacterium Legionella pneumophila and promotes the bacterial growth. These results suggest that RNA Pol-III is a cytosolic DNA sensor involved in innate immune responses.

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