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MicroRNA targeting of neurotropic flavivirus: effective control of virus escape and reversion to neurovirulent phenotype.

ABSTRACT: Neurotropic flaviviruses can efficiently replicate in the developing and mature central nervous systems (CNS) of mice causing lethal encephalitis. Insertion of a single copy of a target for brain-expressed microRNAs (miRNAs) in the 3' noncoding region (3'NCR) of the flavivirus genome (chimeric tick-borne encephalitis virus/dengue virus) abolished virus neurovirulence in the mature mouse CNS. However, in the developing CNS of highly permissive suckling mice, the miRNA-targeted viruses can revert to a neurovirulent phenotype by accumulating deletions or mutations within the miRNA target sequence. Virus escape from miRNA-mediated suppression in the developing CNS was markedly diminished by increasing the number of miRNA target sites and by extending the distance between these sites in the virus genome. Insertion of multiple miRNA targets into the 3'NCR altered virus neuroinvasiveness, decreased neurovirulence and neuroinflammatory responses, and prevented neurodegeneration without loss of immunogenicity. Although the onset of encephalitis was delayed, a small number of suckling mice still succumbed to lethal intracerebral infection with the miRNA-targeted viruses. Sequence analysis of brain isolates from moribund mice revealed that the viruses escaped from miRNA-mediated suppression exclusively through the deletion of miRNA targets and viral genome sequence located between the two miRNA targets separated by the greatest distance. These findings offer a general strategy to control the reversion of virus to a virulent phenotype: a simultaneous miRNA targeting of the viral genome at many different functionally important regions could prevent virus escape from miRNA-based attenuation, since a deletion of the targeted genomic sequences located between the inserted miRNA binding sites would be lethal for the virus.

PROVIDER: S-EPMC3347253 | BioStudies |

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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