Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology


Microbiology and Physiological Systems

First Thesis Advisor

Timothy Kowalik, Ph.D.


RNA Interference, Adenoviridae, MicroRNAs, RNA, Small Interfering, RNA, Viral


In the complex relationships of mammalian viruses with their hosts, it is currently unclear as to what role RNA silencing pathways play during the course of infection. RNA silencing-based immunity is the cornerstone of plant and invertebrate defense against viral pathogens, and examples of host defense mechanisms and numerous viral counterdefense mechanisms exist. Recent studies indicate that RNA silencing might also play an active role in the context of a mammalian virus infection. We show here that a mammalian virus, human adenovirus, interacts with RNA silencing pathways during infection, as the virus produces microRNAs (miRNAs) and regulates the expression of Dicer, a key component of RNA silencing mechanisms.

Our work demonstrates that adenovirus encodes two miRNAs within the loci of the virus-associated RNA I (VA RNA I). We find that one of these miRNAs, miR-VA “g”, enters into a functional, Argonaute-2 (Ago-2)-containing silencing complex during infection. Currently, the cellular or viral target genes for these miRNAs remain unidentified. Inhibition of the function of the miRNAs during infection did not affect viral growth in a highly cytopathic cell culture model. However, studies from other viruses implicate viral miRNAs in the establishment of latent or chronic infections.

Additionally, we find that adenovirus infection leads to the reduced expression of Dicer. This downregulation does not appear to be dependent on the presence of VA RNA or its associated miRNAs. Rather, Dicer levels appear to inversely correlate with the level of viral replication, indicating that another viral gene product is responsible for this activity. Misregulation of Dicer expression does not appear to influence viral growth in a cell culture model of infection, and also does not lead to gross changes in the pool of cellular miRNAs. Taken together, our results demonstrate that RNA silencing pathways are active participants in the process of infection with human adenovirus. The production of viral miRNAs and the regulation of cellular Dicer levels during infection implicate RNA silencing mechanisms in both viral fitness as well as potential host defense strategies.



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