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J Virol. 2012 Mar;86(6):3038-49. doi: 10.1128/JVI.05741-11. Epub 2012 Jan 11.

Characterization of the RNA silencing suppression activity of the Ebola virus VP35 protein in plants and mammalian cells.

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Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA.


Ebola virus (EBOV) causes a lethal hemorrhagic fever for which there is no approved effective treatment or prevention strategy. EBOV VP35 is a virulence factor that blocks innate antiviral host responses, including the induction of and response to alpha/beta interferon. VP35 is also an RNA silencing suppressor (RSS). By inhibiting microRNA-directed silencing, mammalian virus RSSs have the capacity to alter the cellular environment to benefit replication. A reporter gene containing specific microRNA target sequences was used to demonstrate that prior expression of wild-type VP35 was able to block establishment of microRNA silencing in mammalian cells. In addition, wild-type VP35 C-terminal domain (CTD) protein fusions were shown to bind small interfering RNA (siRNA). Analysis of mutant proteins demonstrated that reporter activity in RSS assays did not correlate with their ability to antagonize double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)-activated protein kinase R (PKR) or bind siRNA. The results suggest that enhanced reporter activity in the presence of VP35 is a composite of nonspecific translational enhancement and silencing suppression. Moreover, most of the specific RSS activity in mammalian cells is RNA binding independent, consistent with VP35's proposed role in sequestering one or more silencing complex proteins. To examine RSS activity in a system without interferon, VP35 was tested in well-characterized plant silencing suppression assays. VP35 was shown to possess potent plant RSS activity, and the activities of mutant proteins correlated strongly, but not exclusively, with RNA binding ability. The results suggest the importance of VP35-protein interactions in blocking silencing in a system (mammalian) that cannot amplify dsRNA.

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