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mBio. 2018 Nov 6;9(6). pii: e02126-18. doi: 10.1128/mBio.02126-18.

The Cellular NMD Pathway Restricts Zika Virus Infection and Is Targeted by the Viral Capsid Protein.

Author information

Gladstone Institutes, San Francisco, California, USA.
Medical Scientist Training Program and Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) and Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
Departments of Neurology and Physiology, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
Gladstone Institutes, San Francisco, California, USA
Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
Contributed equally


Zika virus (ZIKV) infection of neural progenitor cells (NPCs) in utero is associated with neurological disorders, such as microcephaly, but a detailed molecular understanding of ZIKV-induced pathogenesis is lacking. Here we show that in vitro ZIKV infection of human cells, including NPCs, causes disruption of the nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) pathway. NMD is a cellular mRNA surveillance mechanism that is required for normal brain size in mice. Using affinity purification-mass spectrometry, we identified multiple cellular NMD factors that bind to the viral capsid protein, including the central NMD regulator up-frameshift protein 1 (UPF1). Endogenous UPF1 interacted with the ZIKV capsid protein in coimmunoprecipitation experiments, and capsid expression posttranscriptionally downregulated UPF1 protein levels, a process that we confirmed occurs during ZIKV infection. Cellular fractionation studies show that the ZIKV capsid protein specifically targets nuclear UPF1 for degradation via the proteasome. A further decrease in UPF1 levels by RNAi significantly enhanced ZIKV infection in NPC cultures, consistent with a model in which NMD restricts ZIKV infection in the fetal brain. We propose that ZIKV, via the capsid protein, has evolved a strategy to lower UPF1 levels and dampen antiviral activities of NMD, which in turn contributes to neuropathology in vivo IMPORTANCE Zika virus (ZIKV) is a significant global health threat, as infection has been linked to serious neurological complications, including microcephaly. Using a human stem cell-derived neural progenitor model system, we find that a critical cellular quality control process called the nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) pathway is disrupted during ZIKV infection. Importantly, disruption of the NMD pathway is a known cause of microcephaly and other neurological disorders. We further identify an interaction between the capsid protein of ZIKV and up-frameshift protein 1 (UPF1), the master regulator of NMD, and show that ZIKV capsid targets UPF1 for degradation. Together, these results offer a new mechanism for how ZIKV infection can cause neuropathology in the developing brain.


Zika virus; nonsense-mediated mRNA decay pathway; virus-host interactions

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