A microRNA screen identifies the Wnt signaling pathway as a regulator of the interferon response during flavivirus infection

Jessica L. Smith, Sophia Jeng, Shannon K. McWeeney, Alec J. Hirsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


The impact of mosquito-borne flavivirus infections worldwide is significant, and many critical aspects of these viruses' biology, including virus-host interactions, host cell requirements for replication, and how virus-host interactions impact pathology, remain to be fully understood. The recent reemergence and spread of flaviviruses, including dengue virus (DENV), West Nile virus (WNV), and Zika virus (ZIKV), highlight the importance of performing basic research on this important group of pathogens. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small, noncoding RNAs that modulate gene expression posttranscriptionally and have been demonstrated to regulate a broad range of cellular processes. Our research is focused on identifying pro- and antiflaviviral miRNAs as a means of characterizing cellular pathways that support or limit viral replication. We have screened a library of known human miRNA mimics for their effect on the replication of three flaviviruses, DENV, WNV, and Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV), using a high-content immunofluorescence screen. Several families of miRNAs were identified as inhibiting multiple flaviviruses, including the miRNA miR-34, miR-15, and miR-517 families. Members of the miR-34 family, which have been extensively characterized for their ability to repress Wnt/β-catenin signaling, demonstrated strong antiflaviviral effects, and this inhibitory activity extended to other viruses, including ZIKV, alphaviruses, and herpesviruses. Previous research suggested a possible link between the Wnt and type I interferon (IFN) signaling pathways. Therefore, we investigated the role of type I IFN induction in the antiviral effects of the miR-34 family and confirmed that these miRNAs potentiate interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3) phosphorylation and translocation to the nucleus, the induction of IFN-responsive genes, and the release of type I IFN from transfected cells. We further demonstrate that the intersection between the Wnt and IFN signaling pathways occurs at the point of glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β)-TANK-binding kinase 1 (TBK1) binding, inducing TBK1 to phosphorylate IRF3 and initiate downstream IFN signaling. In this way, we have identified a novel cellular signaling network with a critical role in regulating the replication of multiple virus families. These findings highlight the opportunities for using miRNAs as tools to discover and characterize unique cellular factors involved in supporting or limiting virus replication, opening up new avenues for antiviral research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02388-16
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Flavivirus
  • Interferons
  • MicroRNA
  • Wnt signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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