Engineered RNA viral synthesis of microRNAs.

Varble, A., Chua, M. A., Perez, J. T., Manicassamy, B., Garcia-Sastre, A. and tenOever, B. R.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 11/06/2010

PMID: 20534531


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short noncoding RNAs that exert posttranscriptional gene silencing and regulate gene expression. In addition to the hundreds of conserved cellular miRNAs that have been identified, miRNAs of viral origin have been isolated and found to modulate both the viral life cycle and the cellular transcriptome. Thus far, detection of virus-derived miRNAs has been largely limited to DNA viruses, suggesting that RNA viruses may be unable to exploit this aspect of transcriptional regulation. Lack of RNA virus-produced miRNAs has been attributed to the replicative constraints that would incur following RNase III processing of a genomic hairpin. To ascertain whether the generation of viral miRNAs is limited to DNA viruses, we investigated whether influenza virus could be designed to deliver functional miRNAs without affecting replication. Here, we describe a modified influenza A virus that expresses cellular microRNA-124 (miR-124). Insertion of the miR-124 hairpin into an intron of the nuclear export protein transcript resulted in endogenous processing and functional miR-124. We demonstrate that a viral RNA genome incorporating a hairpin does not result in segment instability or miRNA-mediated genomic targeting, thereby permitting the virus to produce a miRNA without having a negative impact on viral replication. This work demonstrates that RNA viruses can produce functional miRNAs and suggests that this level of transcriptional regulation may extend beyond DNA viruses.