RIG-I triggers a signaling-abortive anti-SARS-CoV-2 defense in human lung cells.

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Efficient immune responses against viral infection are determined by sufficient activation of nucleic acid sensor-mediated innate immunity1,2. Coronavirus disease 2019, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), remains an ongoing global pandemic. It is an urgent challenge to clarify the innate recognition mechanism to control this virus. Here we show that retinoic acid-inducible gene-I (RIG-I) sufficiently restrains SARS-CoV-2 replication in human lung cells in a type I/III interferon (IFN)-independent manner. RIG-I recognizes the 3′ untranslated region of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome via the helicase domains, but not the C-terminal domain. This new mode of RIG-I recognition does not stimulate its ATPase, thereby aborting the activation of the conventional mitochondrial antiviral-signaling protein-dependent pathways, which is in accordance with lack of cytokine induction. Nevertheless, the interaction of RIG-I with the viral genome directly abrogates viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase mediation of the first step of replication. Consistently, genetic ablation of RIG-I allows lung cells to produce viral particles that expressed the viral spike protein. By contrast, the anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity was restored by all-trans retinoic acid treatment through upregulation of RIG-I protein expression in primary lung cells derived from patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Thus, our findings demonstrate the distinctive role of RIG-I as a restraining factor in the early phase of SARS-CoV-2 infection in human lung cells.

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Authors: Taisho Yamada, Seiichi Sato, Yuki Sotoyama, Yasuko Orba, Hirofumi Sawa, Hajime Yamauchi, Michihito Sasaki, Akinori Takaoka