Benitez, A. A., Spanko, L. A., Bouhaddou, M., Sachs, D. and tenOever, B. R.
Cell Rep 10/11/2015
Although the intrinsic antiviral cell defenses of many kingdoms utilize pathogen-specific small RNAs, the antiviral response of chordates is primarily protein based and not uniquely tailored to the incoming microbe. In an effort to explain this evolutionary bifurcation, we determined whether antiviral RNAi was sufficient to replace the protein-based type I interferon (IFN-I) system of mammals. To this end, we recreated an RNAi-like response in mammals and determined its effectiveness to combat influenza A virus in vivo in the presence and absence of the canonical IFN-I system. Mammalian antiviral RNAi, elicited by either host- or virus-derived small RNAs, effectively attenuated virus and prevented disease independently of the innate immune response. These data find that chordates could have utilized RNAi as their primary antiviral cell defense and suggest that the IFN-I system emerged as a result of natural selection imposed by ancient pathogens.