Extracellular RNA in Viral–Host Interactions: Thinking Outside the Cell

by | Apr 29, 2019

Small RNAs and their associated RNA interference (RNAi) pathways underpin diverse mechanisms of gene regulation and genome defense across all three kingdoms of life and are integral to virus–host interactions.

Diverse classes of RNAs are needed inside cells to control gene expression and recent data suggest some of these RNAs are also passed between cells in small membrane-enclosed vesicles.

The transmission of RNA from one cell to another serves as a form of cell-to-cell communication and allows immune cells to coordinate a response to injury or infection.

However, RNA transmission is also associated with disease—tumor cells release RNAs that condition the environment to enable metastasis and pathogens, including viruses, exploiting natural RNA communication mechanisms to transmit their genetic material and regulatory RNAs to cells.

In a WIREs RNA review, Sarah Ressel and other members of Amy Buck’s lab review the current literature on the functions of small RNAs that are transmitted from infected cells to uninfected cells during infection.

Viral small RNAs can condition the microenvironment to facilitate infection, and can contribute to virus-induced malignant transformation or fibrosis. At the same time, transmission of cellular small RNAs from an infected cell can serve as a defense mechanism to warn neighboring cells and prime immune responses.

Understanding how viruses and host cells control RNA transmission offers new therapeutic targets in infection and associated diseases. The field of extracellular RNA is rapidly advancing and requires new technologies to isolate and phenotype the transmitted RNAs.

This review highlights new technical developments and thinking about how RNA communicates information between cells and how viruses have evolved to exploit this.

Kindly contributed by the Authors.

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