GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program



First Thesis Advisor

Katherine Fitzgerald, Ph.D.


Immunity, Innate, Receptors, Pattern Recognition, Interferon Regulatory Factors, Metapneumovirus


The Innate immune system is the first line of defense against invading microbial pathogens. It is a fast-acting and non-antigen-specific defense system, which employs germline encoded surveillance systems capable of responding to a broad-spectrum of pathogens. The innate immune system involves a variety of immune cells, which express different profiles of surveillance or detection receptors. Upon sensing pathogens, these receptors trigger cell signalling to turn on transcription of inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, anti-microbial peptides and type I Interferons. These effectors have direct effects on the control of pathogen load and also activate the adaptive immune system, which is ultimately required to clear infections. The type I interferons (IFNs) are the principal cytokines strongly induced during infection with viruses and are required for direct control of viral replication and modulation of cells of the adaptive immune response. The signalling pathways induced in order to activate type I IFNs are dependent on the interferon regulatory factors (IRFs). Striving for survival, microbes have evolved various strategies to subvert/impair these critical defense molecules.

In this thesis work, I have used Human Metapneumoviruses (HMPVs), a relatively newly described family of paramyxoviruses as model viruses to explore the role of pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) and the IRF family of transcription factors in the innate immune response. These studies revealed that the recognition of HMPV viral pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) by immune cells is different in different cell types. Retinoic acid-inducible gene-I (RIG-I), a cytosolic RNA helicases senses HMPV-A1 virus for triggering type I IFN activation by detecting its 5’- triphosphate viral RNA in most human cells, including cell lines and primary monocytes. An exception to these findings was plasmacytoid dendritic cells (PDCs), where Toll-like receptor (TLR)-7 is the primary sensor involved in detecting HMPV viruses. By comparing the innate immune response to two HMPV strains, we found that these two closely related strains had very different immune stimulatory capabilities. HMPV-1A strain triggered type I IFNs in monocytes, PDCs and cells of epithelial origin. In contrast, a related strain, HMPV-B1 failed to trigger IFN responses in most cell types. Our studies suggested that the phosphoprotein (P) of HMPV-B1 could prevent the viral RNA from being detected by RIG-I, thus inhibiting the induction of type I IFN production in most cell type examined. This finding adds to our understanding of the mechanisms by which viruses are sensed by surveillance receptors and also unveils new means of viral evasion of host immune responses.

Although IRFs are extensively studied for their role in regulating type I IFN activation, especially in TLR and RIG-I like receptor (RLR) signalling pathways upon viral infection, a clear understanding of how this family of transcription factors contributes to anti-viral immunity was lacking. Studies conducted as part of this thesis revealed that in addition to IRF3 and IRF7, which play a central role in anti-viral immunity downstream of most PRRs (e.g. TLRs, RLRs, DNA sensors), the related factor IRF5 was also an important component of innate anti-viral defenses. Using IRF5-deficient mice we studied in detail the role of IRF5 in coordinating antiviral defenses by examining its involvement in signalling downstream of TLRs. These studies led us to examine the role of IRF5 in the regulation of type I IFNs as well as inflammatory cytokines in different cell types. While most TLRs that induced IFNβ showed normal responses in IRF5-deficient mice, CpG-B-induced IFNβ production in CD11c+CDCs isolated from mouse spleen but not those generated in vitro from bone marrow required IRF5. This was in contrast to responses with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or polyriboinosinic polyribocytidylic acid (polyIC), ligands for TLR4 and 3, respectively. Moreover, we found that in contrast to IRF3 and/or IRF7, IRF5 was important in coordinating the expression of inflammatory cytokines such as TNFα downstream of some TLRs. In addition to our studies to examine the requirement for IRF5 in TLR signaling, we also showed that muramyl peptide (MDP) from Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) could activate type I IFNs via IRF5. This was the first evidence linking IRF5 to a non-TLR-driven pathway. IRF5 activation in this case was downstream of a novel nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain containing (NOD)-2/receptor-interacting serine-threonine kinase (RIP)-2 signaling pathway.

Collectively, the studies outlined in this thesis have assisted in providing a framework to understand the role of TLRs, RLRs and IRFs in the immune response to paramyxoviruses and have unveiled new mechanisms of activation of the IRFs as well as new mechanisms by which pathogens subvert or evade these important innate defense mechanisms.



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