We examined the antiviral response promoted by type I interferons (IFN) in primary mouse neurons. IFN treatment of neuron cultures strongly upregulated the transcription of IFN-stimulated genes but conferred a surprisingly low resistance to infection by neurotropic viruses such as Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus (TMEV) or vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV). Response of primary mouse neurons to IFN treatment was heterogeneous, as many neurons failed to express the typical IFN response marker Mx1 after IFN treatment. This heterogeneous response of primary neurons correlated with a low level of basal expression of IFN-stimulated genes, such as Stat1, that are involved in signal transduction of the IFN response. In addition, transcriptomic analysis identified 15 IFN-responsive genes whose expression was low in IFN-treated primary neurons compared to that of primary fibroblasts derived from the same mice (Dhx58, Gvin1, Sp100, Ifi203 isoforms 1 and 2, Irgm2, Lgals3bp, Ifi205, Apol9b, Ifi204, Ifi202b, Tor3a, Slfn2, Ifi35, Lgals9). Among these genes, the gene coding for apolipoprotein L9b (Apol9b) displayed antiviral activity against Theiler's virus when overexpressed in L929 cells or in primary neurons. Accordingly, knocking down Apol9b expression in L929 cells increased viral replication. Therefore, we identified a new antiviral protein induced by interferon, ApoL9b, whose lack of expression in primary neurons likely contributes to the high sensitivity of these cells to viral infection.
The type I interferon (IFN) response is an innate immune defense mechanism that is critical to contain viral infection in the host until an adaptive immune response can be mounted. Neurons are a paradigm for postmitotic, highly differentiated cells. Our data show that primary mouse neurons that are exposed to type I interferon remain surprisingly susceptible to viral infection. On one hand, the low level of basal expression of some factors in neurons might prevent a rapid response of these cells. On the other hand, some genes that are typically activated by type I interferon in other cell types are expressed at much lower levels in neurons. Among these genes is the gene encoding apolipoprotein L9, a protein that proved to have antiviral activity against the neurotropic Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus. Our data suggest important functional differences in the IFN response mounted by specific cell populations.
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