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J Gen Virol. 2018 Jun;99(6):790-804. doi: 10.1099/jgv.0.001034. Epub 2018 Apr 20.

Mutagenic repair of double-stranded DNA breaks in vaccinia virus genomes requires cellular DNA ligase IV activity in the cytosol.

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1​Department of Medical Microbiology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
‡​Present address: Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, USA.
2​Institute for Virology, University Hospital Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany.
3​Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.


Poxviruses comprise a group of large dsDNA viruses that include members relevant to human and animal health, such as variola virus, monkeypox virus, cowpox virus and vaccinia virus (VACV). Poxviruses are remarkable for their unique replication cycle, which is restricted to the cytoplasm of infected cells. The independence from the host nucleus requires poxviruses to encode most of the enzymes involved in DNA replication, transcription and processing. Here, we use the CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering system to induce DNA damage to VACV (strain Western Reserve) genomes. We show that targeting CRISPR/Cas9 to essential viral genes limits virus replication efficiently. Although VACV is a strictly cytoplasmic pathogen, we observed extensive viral genome editing at the target site; this is reminiscent of a non-homologous end-joining DNA repair mechanism. This pathway was not dependent on the viral DNA ligase, but critically involved the cellular DNA ligase IV. Our data show that DNA ligase IV can act outside of the nucleus to allow repair of dsDNA breaks in poxvirus genomes. This pathway might contribute to the introduction of mutations within the genome of poxviruses and may thereby promote the evolution of these viruses.


CRISPR/Cas9; DNA ligase IV; Poxvirus; genome editing; mutagenesis; viral genome repair

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