Viruses need to ensure that infected cells survive long enough to allow the production of progeny. Reeves et al. now show that human cytomegalovirus uses an unusual strategy to this end--an abundant noncoding RNA specifically interferes with an apoptotic trigger in the mitochondrion. In cells in which apoptosis has been triggered, the RNA binds to an enzyme in the mitochondrion and helps to maintain functional mitochondria, which prolongs the life of the infected cells. This mechanism obviates the need for the virus to translate a protein product to perform this function and may thus exploit the infected cell’s resources more effectively.
M. B. Reeves, A. A. Davies, B. P. McSharry, G. W. Wilkinson, J. H. Sinclair, Complex I binding by a virally encoded RNA regulates mitochondria-induced cell death. Science 316, 1345-1348 (2007). [Abstract] [Full Text]