Identification of RNA partners of viral proteins in infected cells


RNA viruses exhibit small-sized genomes encoding few proteins, but still establish complex networks of protein-protein and RNA-protein interactions within a cell to achieve efficient replication and spreading. Deciphering these interactions is essential to reach a comprehensive understanding of the viral infection process. To study RNA-protein complexes directly in infected cells, we developed a new approach based on recombinant viruses expressing tagged viral proteins that were purified together with their specific RNA partners. High-throughput sequencing was then used to identify these RNA molecules. As a proof of principle, this method was applied to measles virus nucleoprotein (MV-N). It revealed that in addition to full-length genomes, MV-N specifically interacted with a unique population of 5′ copy-back defective interfering RNA genomes that we characterized. Such RNA molecules were able to induce strong activation of interferon-stimulated response element promoter preferentially via the cytoplasmic pattern recognition receptor RIG-I protein, demonstrating their biological functionality. Thus, this method provides a new platform to explore biologically active RNA-protein networks that viruses establish within infected cells.

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Identification of RNA partners of viral proteins in infected cells