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PLoS Pathog. 2013;9(6):e1003474. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003474. Epub 2013 Jun 27.

Evasion of antiviral innate immunity by Theiler's virus L* protein through direct inhibition of RNase L.

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Université Catholique de Louvain, de Duve Institute, Brussels, Belgium.


Theiler's virus is a neurotropic picornavirus responsible for chronic infections of the central nervous system. The establishment of a persistent infection and the subsequent demyelinating disease triggered by the virus depend on the expression of L*, a viral accessory protein encoded by an alternative open reading frame of the virus. We discovered that L* potently inhibits the interferon-inducible OAS/RNase L pathway. The antagonism of RNase L by L* was particularly prominent in macrophages where baseline oligoadenylate synthetase (OAS) and RNase L expression levels are elevated, but was detectable in fibroblasts after IFN pretreatment. L* mutations significantly affected Theiler's virus replication in primary macrophages derived from wild-type but not from RNase L-deficient mice. L* counteracted the OAS/RNase L pathway through direct interaction with the ankyrin domain of RNase L, resulting in the inhibition of this enzyme. Interestingly, RNase L inhibition was species-specific as Theiler's virus L* protein blocked murine RNase L but not human RNase L or RNase L of other mammals or birds. Direct RNase L inhibition by L* and species specificity were confirmed in an in vitro assay performed with purified proteins. These results demonstrate a novel viral mechanism to elude the antiviral OAS/RNase L pathway. By targeting the effector enzyme of this antiviral pathway, L* potently inhibits RNase L, underscoring the importance of this enzyme in innate immunity against Theiler's virus.

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