Modulation of Alphaviruses by Small RNAs

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Virginia Tech


Mosquito-borne diseases remain a significant burden on global public health. Maintenance of mosquito-borne viruses in nature requires a biological transmission cycle that involves alternating virus replication in a susceptible vertebrate and mosquito host. Although infection of the vertebrate host is acute and often associated with disease, continual transmission of these viruses in nature depends on the establishment of a persistent, nonpathogenic infection in the mosquito vector. It is well known that invertebrates rely on small RNA pathways as an adaptive antiviral defense. The canonical antiviral response in these organisms involves dicer enzymes that cleave viral double-stranded RNA replicative intermediates (RIs) into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs; ~21-24 nucleotides). One strand of the siRNA duplex guides the targeting and destruction of complementary viral RNAs when loaded and retained in a multi-protein complex called the RNA-induced silencing complex. Here, we show that mosquito vectors mount a redundant double defense against virus infection mediated by two different small RNA pathways. Specifically, we demonstrate that in addition to a canonical antiviral response mediated by siRNAs, virus infection of the mosquito soma also triggers an antiviral immune pathway directed by ping-pong-dependent PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs; ~24-30 nucleotides). The complexity of mosquito antiviral immunity has important implications for understanding how viruses both induce and modulate RNA-silencing responses in mosquito vectors.

In mammals, viral RIs induce a range of relatively nonspecific antiviral responses. However, it remains unclear if viral RIs also trigger RNA silencing in mammals. Mosquito-borne viruses represent an ideal model for addressing this question as their transmission cycles involve alternating replication in mammalian and invertebrate hosts. Although we report identifying a subset of virus-derived small RNAs that appear to be products of RNA silencing in two mammalian cell lines infected with the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus (CHIKV), our studies suggest these small RNAs have little biological relevance in combating virus infections. Thus, while the accumulation of virus-derived siRNAs is essential to the survival of mosquitoes infected with CHIKV, they appear to have little functional significance in mammalian antiviral immunity.



Aedes albopictus, short interfering RNAs, piwi-interacting RNAs, chikungunya virus, antiviral immunity