Viral DNA Sensors IFI16 and Cyclic GMP-AMP Synthase Possess Distinct Functions in Regulating Viral Gene Expression, Immune Defenses, and Apoptotic Responses during Herpesvirus Infection

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The human interferon-inducible protein IFI16 is an important antiviral factor that binds nuclear viral DNA and promotes antiviral responses. Here, we define IFI16 dynamics in space and time and its distinct functions from the DNA sensor cyclic dinucleotide GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS). Live-cell imaging reveals a multiphasic IFI16 redistribution, first to viral entry sites at the nuclear periphery and then to nucleoplasmic puncta upon herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infections. Optogenetics and live-cell microscopy establish the IFI16 pyrin domain as required for nuclear periphery localization and oligomerization. Furthermore, using proteomics, we define the signature protein interactions of the IFI16 pyrin and HIN200 domains and demonstrate the necessity of pyrin for IFI16 interactions with antiviral proteins PML and cGAS. We probe signaling pathways engaged by IFI16, cGAS, and PML using clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/Cas9-mediated knockouts in primary fibroblasts. While IFI16 induces cytokines, only cGAS activates STING/TBK-1/IRF3 and apoptotic responses upon HSV-1 and HCMV infections. cGAS-dependent apoptosis upon DNA stimulation requires both the enzymatic production of cyclic dinucleotides and STING. We show that IFI16, not cGAS or PML, represses HSV-1 gene expression, reducing virus titers. This indicates that regulation of viral gene expression may function as a greater barrier to viral replication than the induction of antiviral cytokines. Altogether, our findings establish coordinated and distinct antiviral functions for IFI16 and cGAS against herpesviruses. IMPORTANCE: How mammalian cells detect and respond to DNA viruses that replicate in the nucleus is poorly understood. Here, we decipher the distinct functions of two viral DNA sensors, IFI16 and cGAS, during active immune signaling upon infection with two herpesviruses, herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and human cytomegalovirus (HCMV). We show that IFI16 rapidly oligomerizes at incoming herpesvirus genomes at the nuclear periphery to transcriptionally repress viral gene expression and limit viral replicative capacity. We further demonstrate that IFI16 does not initiate upstream activation of the canonical STING/TBK-1/IRF3 signaling pathway but is required for downstream antiviral cytokine expression. In contrast, we find that, upon DNA sensing during herpesvirus infection, cGAS triggers apoptosis in a STING-dependent manner. Our live-cell imaging, mass spectrometry-based proteomics, CRISPR-based cellular assays, and optogenetics underscore the value of integrative approaches to uncover complex cellular responses against pathogens.

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