Research ArticleCell Biology

Short RNA Duplexes Elicit RIG-I–Mediated Apoptosis in a Cell Type– and Length-Dependent Manner

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Sci. Signal.  08 Nov 2011:
Vol. 4, Issue 198, pp. ra74
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2001614

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Short double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) induce type I interferon (IFN)–mediated innate immune responses. In functional studies with short interfering RNAs or synthetic mimics of microRNA precursors in vitro, we found that short dsRNAs readily induced apoptosis in cells derived from human granulosa cell tumors, but not in other cell types. Apoptosis was independent of the sequence of the dsRNA, but depended on its length, and was induced by 23- and 24-nucleotide (nt) dsRNAs, but not by shorter dsRNAs (<22 nt) or by the long dsRNA polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid. Microarray analysis revealed that apoptosis was accompanied by the increased expression of IFN-stimulated genes; however, several lines of evidence showed that IFNs did not directly induce apoptosis. Subsequent analyses revealed that the short dsRNAs increased the expression of retinoic acid–inducible gene I (RIG-I) through dsRNA-activated protein kinase (PKR). Although these dsRNAs bore 3′ overhangs and nontriphosphate 5′ termini, which are not thought to be RIG-I–activating structures, the dsRNAs bound to RIG-I and triggered proapoptotic signaling mostly by activating RIG-I, which was followed by activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase p38. Thus, we suggest that ligand recognition and subsequent signaling by RNA sensors are more complicated than previously believed. In addition, short dsRNAs may serve as pharmacological agents to target specific tumors, such as granulosa cell tumors.

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