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Chemistry and Biochemistry


Mathematics and Natural Sciences


Recent studies have demonstrated that embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are deficient in expressing type I interferons (IFN), the cytokines that play key roles in antiviral responses. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms and biological implications of this finding are poorly understood. In this study, we developed a synthetic RNA-based assay that can simultaneously assess multiple forms of antiviral responses. Dicer is an enzyme essential for RNA interference (RNAi), which is used as a major antiviral mechanism in invertebrates. RNAi activity is detected in wild-type ESCs but is abolished in Dicer knockout ESCs (D-/-ESCs) as expected. Surprisingly, D-/-ESCs have gained the ability to express IFN, which is otherwise deficient in wild-type ESCs. Furthermore, D-/-ESCs have constitutively active double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)-activated protein kinase (PKR), an enzyme that is also involved in antiviral response. D-/-ESCs show increased sensitivity to the cytotoxicity resulting from RNA transfection. The effects of dsRNA can be partly replicated with a synthetic B2RNA corresponding to the retrotransposon B2 short interspersed nuclear element. B2RNA has secondary structure features of dsRNA and accumulates in D-/-ESCs, suggesting that B2RNA could be a cellular RNA that activates PKR and contributes to the decreased cell proliferation and viability of D-/-ESCs. Treatment of D-/-ESCs with a PKR inhibitor and IFNβ-neutralizing antibodies increased cell proliferation rate and cell viability. Based on these findings, we propose that, in ESCs, Dicer acts as a repressor of antiviral responses and plays a key role in the maintenance of proliferation, viability, and pluripotency of ESCs.

Publication Title

Journal of Biological Chemistry



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