Thanks to high-throughput sequencing technologies, genome sequencing has become a common component in nearly all aspects of viral research; thus, we are experiencing an explosion in both the number of available genome sequences and the number of institutions producing such data. However, there are currently no common standards used to convey the quality, and therefore utility, of these various genome sequences. Here, we propose five "standard" categories that encompass all stages of viral genome finishing, and we define them using simple criteria that are agnostic to the technology used for sequencing. We also provide genome finishing recommendations for various downstream applications, keeping in mind the cost-benefit trade-offs associated with different levels of finishing. Our goal is to define a common vocabulary that will allow comparison of genome quality across different research groups, sequencing platforms, and assembly techniques.
Type I interferons (IFNs) are potent mediators of the innate immune response to viral infection. IFNs released from infected cells bind to a receptor (IFNAR) on neighboring cells, triggering signaling cascades that limit further infection. Subtle variations in amino acids can alter IFNAR binding and signaling outcomes. We used a new gene crossbreeding method to generate hybrid, type I human IFNs with enhanced antiviral activity against four dissimilar, highly pathogenic viruses. Approximately 1400 novel IFN genes were expressed in plants, and the resultant IFN proteins were screened for antiviral activity. Comparing the gene sequences of a final set of 12 potent IFNs to those of parent genes revealed strong selection pressures at numerous amino acids. Using three-dimensional models based on a recently solved experimental structure of IFN bound to IFNAR, we show that many but not all of the amino acids that were highly selected for are predicted to improve receptor binding.
We have developed a high-resolution genomic mapping technique that combines transposon-mediated insertional mutagenesis with either capillary electrophoresis or massively parallel sequencing to identify functionally important regions of the Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) genome. We initially used a capillary electrophoresis method to gain insight into the role of the VEEV nonstructural protein 3 (nsP3) in viral replication. We identified several regions in nsP3 that are intolerant to small (15 bp) insertions, and thus are presumably functionally important. We also identified nine separate regions in nsP3 that will tolerate small insertions at low temperatures (30°C), but not at higher temperatures (37°C, and 40°C). Because we found this method to be extremely effective at identifying temperature sensitive (ts) mutations, but limited by capillary electrophoresis capacity, we replaced the capillary electrophoresis with massively parallel sequencing and used the improved method to generate a functional map of the entire VEEV genome. We identified several hundred potential ts mutations throughout the genome and we validated several of the mutations in nsP2, nsP3, E3, E2, E1 and capsid using single-cycle growth curve experiments with virus generated through reverse genetics. We further demonstrated that two of the nsP3 ts mutants were attenuated for virulence in mice but could elicit protective immunity against challenge with wild-type VEEV. The recombinant ts mutants will be valuable tools for further studies of VEEV replication and virulence. Moreover, the method that we developed is applicable for generating such tools for any virus with a robust reverse genetics system.
A hallmark of immune activation by certain RNA sequences is the generation of interferon responses. However, the study of immunostimulatory RNA (isRNA) has been hindered by costly and slow methods, particularly in vitro. We have developed a cell-based assay to detect human type I interferon (IFN) that reliably senses both IFN-alpha and IFN-beta simultaneously. The human 293T cell line was stably transfected with a fusion gene of monomeric red fluorescent protein (mRFP) under the transcriptional control of an interferon-stimulated response element (ISRE). High levels of mRFP are expressed following activation of the type I IFN receptor (IFNAR). Using this method, detection limits for IFN similar to that of ELISA can be achieved but with a greater dynamic range and in a high-throughput manner. As a proof of concept, we utilized this method to screen a library of cationic lipid-like materials that form nanoparticle complexes with RNA for induction of innate immune responses in vitro. We expect the screening and detection methods described herein may provide a useful tool in elucidating mechanisms that govern the delivery of RNA molecules to effector cells and receptors of the innate immune system. We apply this tool to investigate isRNA drug delivery, but it may also find use in other applications for which high-throughput detection of type 1 IFN is desired.
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