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PLoS Pathog. 2009 Feb;5(2):e1000287. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000287. Epub 2009 Feb 6.

Rift Valley fever virus NSs protein promotes post-transcriptional downregulation of protein kinase PKR and inhibits eIF2alpha phosphorylation.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Galveston, TX, USA.


Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) (genus Phlebovirus, family Bunyaviridae) is a negative-stranded RNA virus with a tripartite genome. RVFV is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes fever and severe hemorrhagic illness among humans, and fever and high rates of abortions in livestock. A nonstructural RVFV NSs protein inhibits the transcription of host mRNAs, including interferon-beta mRNA, and is a major virulence factor. The present study explored a novel function of the RVFV NSs protein by testing the replication of RVFV lacking the NSs gene in the presence of actinomycin D (ActD) or alpha-amanitin, both of which served as a surrogate of the host mRNA synthesis suppression function of the NSs. In the presence of the host-transcriptional inhibitors, the replication of RVFV lacking the NSs protein, but not that carrying NSs, induced double-stranded RNA-dependent protein kinase (PKR)-mediated eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF)2alpha phosphorylation, leading to the suppression of host and viral protein translation. RVFV NSs promoted post-transcriptional downregulation of PKR early in the course of the infection and suppressed the phosphorylated eIF2alpha accumulation. These data suggested that a combination of RVFV replication and NSs-induced host transcriptional suppression induces PKR-mediated eIF2alpha phosphorylation, while the NSs facilitates efficient viral translation by downregulating PKR and inhibiting PKR-mediated eIF2alpha phosphorylation. Thus, the two distinct functions of the NSs, i.e., the suppression of host transcription, including that of type I interferon mRNAs, and the downregulation of PKR, work together to prevent host innate antiviral functions, allowing efficient replication and survival of RVFV in infected mammalian hosts.

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