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Nucleic Acids Res. 2010 Dec;38(22):8328-37. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkq681. Epub 2010 Aug 12.

Functional microRNA generated from a cytoplasmic RNA virus.

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Department of Virology, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small, non-coding RNAs that play a pivotal role in the regulation of posttranscriptional gene expression in a wide range of eukaryotic organisms. Although DNA viruses have been shown to encode miRNAs and exploit the cellular RNA silencing machinery as a convenient way to regulate viral and host gene expression, it is generally believed that this pathway is not available to RNA viruses that replicate in the cytoplasm of the cell because miRNA biogenesis is initiated in the nucleus. In fact, among the >200 viral miRNAs that have been experimentally verified so far, none is derived from an RNA virus. Here, we show that a cytoplasmic RNA virus can indeed encode and produce a functional miRNA. We introduced a heterologous miRNA-precursor stem-loop sequence element into the RNA genome of the flavivirus tick-borne encephalitis virus, and this led to the production of a functional miRNA during viral infection without impairing viral RNA replication. These findings demonstrate that miRNA biogenesis can be used by cytoplasmic RNA viruses to produce regulatory molecules for the modulation of the transcriptome.

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