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J Biol Chem. 2001 Mar 23;276(12):8951-7. Epub 2000 Dec 21.

IRF3 and IRF7 phosphorylation in virus-infected cells does not require double-stranded RNA-dependent protein kinase R or Ikappa B kinase but is blocked by Vaccinia virus E3L protein.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Kaplan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Molecular Oncology and Immunology Program, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York 10016, USA.


Induction of interferon-alpha (IFNalpha) gene expression in virus-infected cells requires phosphorylation-induced activation of the transcription factors IRF3 and IRF7. However, the kinase(s) that targets these proteins has not been identified. Using a combined pharmacological and genetic approach, we found that none of the kinases tested was responsible for IRF phosphorylation in cells infected with Newcastle disease virus (NDV). Although the broad-spectrum kinase inhibitor staurosporine potently blocked IRF3 and -7 phosphorylation, inhibitors for protein kinase C, protein kinase A, MEK, SAPK, IKK, and protein kinase R (PKR) were without effect. Both IkappaB kinase and PKR have been implicated in IFN induction, but cells genetically deficient in IkappaB kinase, PKR, or the PKR-related genes PERK, IRE1, or GCN2 retained the ability to phosphorylate IRF7 and induce IFNalpha. Interestingly, PKR mutant cells were defective for response to double-stranded (ds) RNA but not to virus infection, suggesting that dsRNA is not the only activating viral component. Consistent with this notion, protein synthesis was required for IRF7 phosphorylation in virus-infected cells, and the kinetics of phosphorylation and viral protein production were similar. Despite evidence for a lack of involvement of dsRNA and PKR, vaccinia virus E3L protein, a dsRNA-binding protein capable of inhibiting PKR, was an effective IRF3 and -7 phosphorylation inhibitor. These results suggest that a novel cellular protein that is activated by viral products in addition to dsRNA and is sensitive to E3L inhibition is responsible for IRF activation and reveal a novel mechanism for the anti-IFN effect of E3L distinct from its inhibition of PKR.

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