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Paijo, Jennifer; Döring, Marius; Spanier, Julia; Grabski, Elena; Nooruzzaman, Mohammed; Schmidt, Tobias; Witte, Gregor; Messerle, Martin; Hornung, Veit; Kaever, Volkhard; Kalinke, Ulrich (2016): cGAS Senses Human Cytomegalovirus and Induces Type I Interferon Responses in Human Monocyte-Derived Cells.
In: PLOS Pathogens 12(4), e1005546
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Abstract

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infections of healthy individuals are mostly unnoticed and result in viral latency. However, HCMV can also cause devastating disease, e.g., upon reactivation in immunocompromised patients. Yet, little is known about human immune cell sensing of DNA-encoded HCMV. Recent studies indicated that during viral infection the cyclic GMP/AMP synthase (cGAS) senses cytosolic DNA and catalyzes formation of the cyclic di-nucleotide cGAMP, which triggers stimulator of interferon genes (STING) and thus induces antiviral type I interferon (IFN-I) responses. We found that plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC) as well as monocyte-derived DC and macrophages constitutively expressed cGAS and STING. HCMV infection further induced cGAS, whereas STING expression was only moderately affected. Although pDC expressed particularly high levels of cGAS, and the cGAS/STING axis was functional down-stream of STING, as indicated by IFN-I induction upon synthetic cGAMP treatment, pDC were not susceptible to HCMV infection and mounted IFN-I responses in a TLR9-dependent manner. Conversely, HCMV infected monocyte-derived cells synthesized abundant cGAMP levels that preceded IFN-I production and that correlated with the extent of infection. CRISPR/Cas9-or siRNA-mediated cGAS ablation in monocytic THP-1 cells and primary monocyte-derived cells, respectively, impeded induction of IFN-I responses following HCMV infection. Thus, cGAS is a key sensor of HCMV for IFN-I induction in primary human monocyte-derived DC and macrophages.