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PLoS Pathog. 2012 Jan;8(1):e1002498. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002498. Epub 2012 Jan 26.

The intracellular DNA sensor IFI16 gene acts as restriction factor for human cytomegalovirus replication.

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Department of Public Health and Microbiology, University of Turin, Turin, Italy.


Human interferon (IFN)-inducible IFI16 protein, an innate immune sensor of intracellular DNA, modulates various cell functions, however, its role in regulating virus growth remains unresolved. Here, we adopt two approaches to investigate whether IFI16 exerts pro- and/or anti-viral actions. First, the IFI16 gene was silenced using specific small interfering RNAs (siRNA) in human embryo lung fibroblasts (HELF) and replication of DNA and RNA viruses evaluated. IFI16-knockdown resulted in enhanced replication of Herpesviruses, in particular, Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV). Consistent with this, HELF transduction with a dominant negative form of IFI16 lacking the PYRIN domain (PYD) enhanced the replication of HCMV. Second, HCMV replication was compared between HELFs overexpressing either the IFI16 gene or the LacZ gene. IFI16 overexpression decreased both virus yield and viral DNA copy number. Early and late, but not immediate-early, mRNAs and proteins were strongly down-regulated, thus IFI16 may exert its antiviral effect by impairing viral DNA synthesis. Constructs with the luciferase reporter gene driven by deleted or site-specific mutated forms of the HCMV DNA polymerase (UL54) promoter demonstrated that the inverted repeat element 1 (IR-1), located between -54 and -43 relative to the transcription start site, is the target of IFI16 suppression. Indeed, electrophoretic mobility shift assays and chromatin immunoprecipitation demonstrated that suppression of the UL54 promoter is mediated by IFI16-induced blocking of Sp1-like factors. Consistent with these results, deletion of the putative Sp1 responsive element from the HCMV UL44 promoter also relieved IFI16 suppression. Together, these data implicate IFI16 as a novel restriction factor against HCMV replication and provide new insight into the physiological functions of the IFN-inducible gene IFI16 as a viral restriction factor.

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