Journal of virology

Andes virus nucleocapsid protein interrupts protein kinase R dimerization to counteract host interference in viral protein synthesis.

PMID 25410857


Pathogenic hantaviruses delay the type I interferon response during early stages of viral infection. However, the robust interferon response and induction of interferon-stimulated genes observed during later stages of hantavirus infection fail to combat the virus replication in infected cells. Protein kinase R (PKR), a classical interferon-stimulated gene product, phosphorylates the eukaryotic translation initiation factor eIF2α and causes translational shutdown to create roadblocks for the synthesis of viral proteins. The PKR-induced translational shutdown helps host cells to establish an antiviral state to interrupt virus replication. However, hantavirus-infected cells do not undergo translational shutdown and fail to establish an antiviral state during the course of viral infection. In this study, we showed for the first time that Andes virus infection induced PKR overexpression. However, the overexpressed PKR was not active due to a significant inhibition of autophosphorylation. Further studies revealed that Andes virus nucleocapsid protein inhibited PKR dimerization, a critical step required for PKR autophosphorylation to attain activity. The studies reported here establish a hantavirus nucleocapsid protein as a new PKR inhibitor. These studies provide mechanistic insights into hantavirus resistance to the host interferon response and solve the puzzle of the lack of translational shutdown observed in hantavirus-infected cells. The sensitivity of hantavirus replication to PKR has likely imposed a selective evolutionary pressure on hantaviruses to evade the PKR antiviral response for survival. We envision that evasion of the PKR antiviral response by NP has likely helped hantaviruses to exist during evolution and to survive in infected hosts with a multifaceted antiviral defense. Protein kinase R (PKR), a versatile antiviral host factor, shuts down the translation machinery upon activation in virus-infected cells to create hurdles for the manufacture of viral proteins. The studies reported here reveal that the hantavirus nucleocapsid protein counteracts the PKR antiviral response by inhibiting PKR dimerization, which is required for its activation. We report the discovery of a new PKR inhibitor whose expression in hantavirus-infected cells prevents the PKR-induced host translational shutdown to ensure the continuous synthesis of viral proteins required for efficient virus replication.