Given the critical role of interferons (IFNs) as a first line of defense against infection, it is not surprising that many viruses have evolved strategies to block an IFN response as a means to increase their replication efficiency. Virus-mediated inhibition of IFNs can be generalized into three categories, including disruption of IFN induction, disruption of IFN-inducible signaling and disruption of IFN-mediated effector functions.
The non-structural protein 1 (NS1) of influenza A viruses exerts its inhibitory effects on IFN predominately by interfering with IFN productionType I interferons (IFNs) function as the first line of defense against viral infections by modulating cell growth, establishing an antiviral state and influencing the activation of various immune cells. Viruses such as influenza have developed mechanisms to evade this defense mechanism and during infection with influenza A viruses, the non-structural protein 1 (NS1) encoded by the virus genome suppresses induction of IFNs-α/β.
Expression of avian H5N1 NS1 in HeLa cells leads to a block in IFN signaling. H5N1 NS1 reduces IFN-inducible tyrosine phosphorylation of STAT1, STAT2 and STAT3 and inhibits the nuclear translocation of phospho-STAT2 and the formation of IFN-inducible STAT1:1-, STAT1:3- and STAT3:3- DNA complexes. Inhibition of IFN-inducible STAT signaling by NS1 in HeLa cells is, in part, a consequence of NS1-mediated inhibition of expression of the IFN receptor subunit, IFNAR1. However, treatment of ex vivo human lung tissues with IFN-α results in the up-regulation of a number of IFN-stimulated genes and inhibits both H5N1 and H1N1 virus replication. The data suggest that NS1 can directly interfere with IFN signaling to enhance viral replication, but that treatment with IFN can nevertheless override these inhibitory effects to block H5N1 and H1N1 virus infections.