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5-methylcytosine (m5C) RNA modification controls the innate immune response to virus infection by regulating type I interferons

Zhang Y, Zhang L-S, Dai Q, Chen P, Lu M, Kairis EL, Murugaiah V, Xu J, Shukla RK, Liang X, Zou Z, Cormet-Boyaka E, Qiu J, Peeples ME, Sharma A, He C, Li J
Proc Nat Acad Sci USA. 2022;119(42):e2123338119 doi:10.1073/pnas.2123338119
5-methylcytosine (m5C) is one of the most prevalent modifications of RNA, playing important roles in RNA metabolism, nuclear export, and translation. However, the potential role of RNA m5C methylation in innate immunity remains elusive. Here, we show that depletion of NSUN2, an m5C methyltransferase, significantly inhibits the replication and gene expression of a wide range of RNA and DNA viruses. Notably, we found that this antiviral effect is largely driven by an enhanced type I interferon (IFN) response. The antiviral signaling pathway is dependent on the cytosolic RNA sensor RIG-I but not MDA5. Transcriptome-wide mapping of m5C following NSUN2 depletion in human A549 cells revealed a marked reduction in the m5C methylation of several abundant noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs). However, m5C methylation of viral RNA was not noticeably altered by NSUN2 depletion. In NSUN2-depleted cells, the host RNA polymerase (Pol) III transcribed ncRNAs, in particular RPPH1 and 7SL RNAs, were substantially up-regulated, leading to an increase of unshielded 7SL RNA in cytoplasm, which served as a direct ligand for the RIG-I-mediated IFN response. In NSUN2-depleted cells, inhibition of Pol III transcription or silencing of RPPH1 and 7SL RNA dampened IFN signaling, partially rescuing viral replication and gene expression. Finally, depletion of NSUN2 in an ex vivo human lung model and a mouse model inhibits viral replication and reduces pathogenesis, which is accompanied by enhanced type I IFN responses. Collectively, our data demonstrate that RNA m5C methylation controls antiviral innate immunity through modulating the m5C methylome of ncRNAs and their expression.
Not Epub
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Vivo-Morpholino intranasal & i.v. injection