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J Virol. 2013 Apr;87(8):4672-82. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00159-13. Epub 2013 Feb 13.

An RNA element in human interleukin 6 confers escape from degradation by the gammaherpesvirus SOX protein.

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Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.


Several viruses express factors to silence host gene expression via widespread mRNA degradation. This phenotype is the result of the coordinated activity of the viral endonuclease SOX and the cellular RNA degradation enzyme Xrn1 during lytic Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) infection. While most cellular transcripts are highly downregulated, a subset of host mRNA escapes turnover via unknown mechanisms. One of the most prominent escapees is the interleukin 6 (IL-6) mRNA, which accumulates robustly during KSHV lytic infection and is not subjected to SOX-induced degradation. Here we reveal that the IL-6 mRNA contains a dominant, cis-acting ∼100-nucleotide element within its 3' untranslated region (UTR) that renders it directly refractory to cleavage by SOX. This element specifically interacts with a cellular protein complex both in SOX-transfected cells and in KSHV-infected B cells. Using a directed RNA pulldown approach, we identified two components of this complex to be the AU-rich element (ARE) binding proteins AUF1 and HuR. Depletion of these proteins significantly reduced the protective capacity of the IL-6 RNA element in SOX-expressing cells. These findings suggest that SOX activity may be directly counteracted by select RNA regulatory complexes and reveal a novel mechanism contributing to the robust expression of IL-6 during KSHV replication.

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