Interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3) is a transcription factor, which is critical for the antiviral response against a wide range of viruses (Hiscott, 2007; Ikushima et al., 2013). It gets activated in virus-infected cells via Toll like receptors (TLRs), RIG-I (retinoic acid inducible gene 1) like receptors (RLRs), cyclic GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS) – stimulator of interferon genes (STING), which are sensors of viral components in the cells (Chattopadhyay and Sen, 2014a; 2014b; Hiscott, 2007). IRF3 is a cytoplasmic protein, upon activation by virally activated sensors it gets phosphorylated, translocated to the nucleus and binds to the interferon-sensitive response element (ISRE) of the gene promoters to induce their transcription (Hiscott, 2007). IRF3 has other functions, including direct stimulation of apoptosis in virus-infected cells. In this pathway, the transcriptional activity of IRF3 is not required (Chattopadhyay et al., 2013b; Chattopadhyay et al., 2016; Chattopadhyay et al., 2010; Chattopadhyay and Sen, 2010; Chattopadhyay et al., 2011). These pathways are negatively regulated by host factors as well as by viruses. Our studies indicate that IRF3 can be proteolytically processed by caspase-8-dependent cleavage (Sears et al., 2011). A specific site in IRF3 is targeted by caspase-8, activated in RNA or DNA virus-infected and dsRNA-stimulated cells (Sears et al., 2011). The direct involvement of caspase-8 was confirmed by in vitro cleavage assay using recombinant proteins and in vivo by virus activated caspase-8. The proteolytic cleavage of IRF3 can be inhibited by chemical inhibition or genetic ablation of caspase-8. The cleavage of IRF3 removes the activated pool of IRF3 and thus can be used as a pro-viral mechanism (Figure 1). Using a C-terminally epitope-tagged human IRF3, we analyzed the cleavage of IRF3 in virus-infected cells. Moreover, we used recombinant proteins in vitro to conclude that IRF3 is a substrate of caspase-8 (Sears et al., 2011). In the current protocol, we have outlined a simple and detailed procedure to biochemically analyze the proteolysis of IRF3 in virus-infected cells and the specific role of caspase-8 in this process.
Figure 1. Model for virus-induced caspase-8-dependent proteolysis of IRF3. In virus-infected cells, IRF3 can be proteolytically cleaved by caspase-8, which gets activated during infection. The cleaved IRF3 is subjected to poly-ubiquitination (Ub) and degradation by proteasome machinery. The degradation of IRF3 inhibits dsRNA-induced antiviral gene induction.
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